We had an interesting lecture last night, which was the first time in recent memory where my brain was actually in pain. Sure, it might’ve been the fact that I was slightly caffeine deficient, but ‘brain abuse’ sounds a whole lot more rock’n’roll.
The whole Raison D’être of Design Anthropology is the study of design as it relates to the human condition, but what about how it relates to design itself?
This was the question I was left with after reading Carruthers and Cross. I’ve mentioned elsewhere that DA is the future of design, and that in many ways, it’s a tool in which designers can assist in justifying their existence and empirically measuring their value, (or the value of their decisions and outputs) in just the same way as DA is used to do exactly that for the users. The torch that once shone outwards, is being shone back on ourselves, so to speak. This should be a fairly benign thing, right? I mean, every other profession, you can see their value – especially those directly related to sales and marketing. A sales person earns you X amount of sales revenue, even an accountant can see the value there. A marketing person increases sales by X%, that’s easy to see, too. But judging from current salary figures (Hayes), designers still in this humble author’s eyes clearly aren’t paid what they’re worth. In fact, I’ve often mocked that the more valuable you are to society, the less you’re paid. That’s probably giving too much credence to design itself as I’m sure we’d all survive just fine without it, but clearly there’s an issue there which is why it seems everytime I ask some random person whom I get introduced to what they’re doing at Uni, invariably it’s marketing or finance. What was I saying about us ‘surviving just fine without’? Yeah, those guys.
I got a bit uppity and indignant after reading Cross. Anything that has the potential to degrade design – such as my much despised ‘crowdsourcing’ – I instantly get my heckles up. We work in an undervalued industry, with comparatively shit wages, that people don’t understand….yet apparently according to Papanek ‘design is for everyone’ and Cross wants to study designers and break down what they do into some convenient system that can be replicated.
There’s a fine line between educating people / clients / management as to what exactly it is that you do over in the design department (aside from having fun and drawing pretty pictures) and cutting your own nose off to spite your face by laying bare all the experience and IP you’ve developed through years of practice and higher education. What Cross did/does is not lifting up the skirt of design – it’s that creepy German guy who plasticises and takes a scalpel to what’s under the skirt. Makes you feel a bit queasy, right? Yeah, me too. I was quite queasy enough well before that last sentence though.
I’m not sure about you, but the very essence of what I love about design, has nothing to do with empiricism or the likelihood of someone coming up with a breakthrough concept at T-53 minutes. Design is not a ‘black art’ but it’s not ‘statistics’ either. Anything developed that can be potentially used as a tool against design should and must be be viewed with a very healthy does of skepticism, because anything that has the potential to harm, historically probably will. Apparently, Oppenheimer had ‘concerns’. Who would’ve guessed.
I cannot imagine a scenario where anyone would advocate a position where design is ascribed as ‘elitist’, either. The fantastic usability and accessibility of software, youtube instructional videos, and web forums are vital to the growth and vitality of design and an expression of it’s egalitarian potential, but as any graphic designer will tell you (or just trip on over to David Thorne’s website), when that results in a dialogue that begins with “Can you just wizz us up a quick logo?” or “My niece did this, can you clean it up a bit?” or you have a look at crowdsourcing for what it is (slave labour and free IP), there are clearly limits. It’s the design version of having a sore leg, googling it, and telling your doctor you probably have bone cancer.
Is researching how design works, or where creativity comes from a threat to the integrity of the design profession, or just a warm handshake from well meaning scientists and curious management? Something to think about next time you’re on public transport (or the loo).