New Responsibilities of the Design Discipline: A Critical Counterweight to the Coming Technologies?


Whether it is 3D printing, wearable computing, or biotechnology and nanotechnology, the list of emerging technologies is long and exciting, the potential impact on our lives even more so.

Designers help make new technologies easy to use and find new applications for them. Increasingly, however, designers should be the ones questioning the promises and highlighting concerns about the side effects of what is on the horizon. Currently, this is not widely understood as design, so this chapter differentiates between designers and design, and argues why this new approach should indeed be considered part of design, especially when it comes to emerging technologies.

Design Is About People

In 1911, architect Walter Gropius was commissioned to design a new building for a factory in Germany. Gropius went on to not only design an aesthetically pleasing exterior for the building, but improved the industrial working conditions by also considering the interior of the building and the workers themselves. For example, his then revolutionary use of glass panels made the factory a bright and transparent working environment. To Gropius, design had a social and ethical responsibility as well as an aesthetic one. His belief was that design should bring social good.

The view that art should meet social needs became one of the central ideas of the influential Bauhaus school that Gropius went on to found. One of its aims was to apply design in a way that allowed a broad mass of people to be able to afford and own “good design,” thus improving life for people of all classes.

Today, design has developed into a field with diverse focus areas, reaching from the creation of physical objects to the creation of more intangible aspects of daily life, such as the experience of engaging with software or services. In all of these areas, designers work across the fields of business, technology, and human factors to make their creations real.

This cross-disciplinary approach makes designers unique in our society. Designers are multiliterates, capable of speaking and understanding the languages of the different fields in which they engage. They are the translators and diplomats between the ever more specialized fields that make up our complex modern world.

One could say that designers, by and large, apply their cross-disciplinary way of thinking to help businesses make better products.

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