According to designer Mike Monteiro, the world is a crappy place getting worse. This is in great part caused by the way we have designed the world and most things within it. In the latest episode of our podcast YELLO, he claims that there is hope – the next generation of designers.
In this episode
First, let’s take a look at how we got to where we are. Many great societal leaps forward have come from global capitalism, but what stands out as critical these days are the costs of getting there:
'Some of the bad stuff is rampant poverty, healthcare crises, global warming, poverty, racial violence, and religious conflicts. We have to design ways to prevent these things from happening again.'
These are systemic, interconnected issues composed by contributions from the minuscule pixel to the grand legislations, by people and designers like us. This is a call to action to be more mindful, careful, and critical when we put things into the world. He urges us to properly assume the responsibility that comes with the job of designer, both as individuals and as a design community.
From gun violence to the lack of privacy on Facebook to the combustion engine that has destroyed the planet’s atmosphere, these products and services are working exactly as they were intended and designed to work. And the results aren’t pretty. Designers must see themselves as 'gatekeepers of what we are bringing into the world' – and what we choose not to bring into the world, Monteiro claims.
Design education is broken
The problem begins with design education. Monteiro notes that we’re not teaching designers what the job actually is, which isn’t a tool to serve capitalism and make things that somebody else tells you to make. He wants to change the entire educational system from bottom and up:
'A good education tells you to think and ask questions. We need to graduate people who are incredibly curious about why I am being asked to make something, who it will affect, who is included in the process, and who is left out. We need to understand, that as designers we have a lot of power to actually affect the things we make, and that we are not just hired to make stuff. We are hired to decide whether this should be made and how it best can be made in the interest of society as a whole.'
The jail of debt
This brings us back to responsibility. Of course, Monteiro acknowledges that it’s difficult for young designers, hindered by debt and inexperience, to go against a leader or corporate design strategy. In addition, US-based tech giants will lure graduates with everything from superficial benefits like beautiful campuses, to critical ones like good health insurance.
'It sounds amazing, except that what this company is doing is collecting all of the world’s data and using it in order to feed you ads and track where you are at every moment in time. It turns out that’s not very good.'
One way to change this besides improving education is to create a system in which young graduates are more financially independent. This way, designers of tomorrow will be able to create more ethically. Debt – in the US, at least – often makes you choose the job that pays the most money over the more ethical jobs.
'The big pool of people are inclined to do the right thing, but the system is treating them unethically. It is unethical to saddle a 23-year-old graduate with $100,000 of debt. We have to change that system. We have to make it easier to make the right decision and ask questions.'
Don’t hire clones
The problem is intimately connected with the way that design teams are created today within an organization. As leaders, we instinctively tend to hire people who are similar to us. But the world doesn’t need teams of 'eight guys named Chad who all went to Stanford' – unless Chad represents someone who embodies experiences, world views and an education inherently different from yours. Making sure that teams are not made up of clones is the easiest way to make sure that whatever you are making is relevant for more people than just you.
Mike sees a diversity of experiences as invaluable for well-rounded teams: 'I want to hire people who know things I don’t know, who can do things better than me and have different life experiences than I do. That means that I need to admit there are things I don’t know, answers I don’t have, and times where I might say something really dumb. If you want to be a really good leader, you have to be ok with all those things.'
Let’s plant some trees
We have to do a better job of designing the world, and time is ticking. Together we can build a society for all if we bother to learn from our mistakes and understand what it really means to design responsibly.
'There is a saying that the most hopeful thing you can do is plant a tree. You will probably not live long enough to get shade from the tree, but you will be a good ancestor, and I want to be a good ancestor.'
Mike Monteiro is the co-founder of Mule Design Studio in San Francisco. Subscribe to his newsletter and check out his latest book, 'Ruined by Design'.
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