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Is Design Anthropology subversive?

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One question I’ve been thinking about recently, is whether or not DA is the new punk.

 

I spent my formative years in the 1980’s under the spectre of Reagan and the mantra ‘greed is good’, and whilst graduating in 1993 smack-bang into the middle of a recession, the guys at that time who were making money from design were the yuppie entrepreneurs who saw design as the perfect way to make something for 7 dollars and sell it for 200.

 

Fast-forward to 2013, and whilst that is still largely the case, the design environment is experiencing a shift towards environmentalism, along with the as-to-be-expected inertia from those who have made their fortune from trawling the depths of the oceans, our wallets and our minds.

 

In all streams of design, it’s no surprise that the catchphrase of the day is that of ‘the environment’, or ‘being green’.  However, the inertia I mentioned above has often manifested in the ‘greenwashing’ of products under the guise of appearing good for the environment, rather than actually being good for the environment.  While it represents without question the beginning of a paradigm shift, one could easily cite man examples of trading one evil for another.  For example, is a small capacity diesel engine any worse than an electric one that derives it’s power from a coal powered stoked power station?  What happens to the 100g of NiMh batteries when the finally die in 15 years time?

 

What I’m slowly learning is that there is a strong undercurrent of subversion in design anthropology.  As I come from industry, I realise that the profit margin is still the key motivator for design decisions, but what if you can not only illustrate ways and means to expand the common good and that of individual users, but also quantify that it’s the best thing to do for the bottom line?

 

Hang on.  I not only improve the world and enrich customers’ lives, but now you’re also telling me this is profitable?  This is the corporate equivalent of convincing your kid to eat his carrots by telling him they’ll give him super vision.

 

To me this is subversive thought.  Design moves and shapes our world – all designers know that design is everything.  Corporate miscreants can’t send us to a Buckminster-Fulleresque ‘oblivion’ if we don’t give them the tools to do so, and even more pervasive, can’t refuse if the humanistic and holistic designs we give them also just happen to feed their pathetically base greed complex.

 

Sound like a plan?

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