A Call to Design Action A Call to Design Action
Design

A Call to Design Action

by Jason Severs

January 21, 2010

Why we have a responsibility to choose intentionally, and move from consumerism to userism.
design mind on GOOD is a series exploring the power of design by the editors of design mind magazine. Find new posts every Tuesday and Thursday.

"I decided I must not be a persuader, but a doer."

-R. Buckminster Fuller, author of "I Seem To Be a Verb"

The word "design" originates from the verb designare, or to designate, and if you look it up in the dictionary you'll find it associated with words such as "intention," "conception," and "planning." But being a designer is less about intention and planning than it is about action. Design is about doing.

As I stated in my previous post, we are all designers now. Whether you're a professional or not, you make aesthetic and strategic choices every day. You may never be a professional designer, but it's important to recognize the role of design in your life, understand its function, and purposefully harness design competencies. So, if design is foremost concerned with doing, and we are all doing it, how and what should we be doing?

Living should be the design

As we work more and our lives are become ever more complicated, the impact of our behavior as consumers has broader implications. For example, when we choose to participate in a food co-op, we make a commitment to a system that requires planning and intention on the part of the individual, coupled with new ways of collaborating with other community members. It's upon us to help keep the system functioning. In reality, joining a food co-op transforms a person from being just a consumer into someone who is also a caretaker.

Whether you're single or have a family, on any given day you encounter situations that require day-to-day decision making. And depending on how you address any of these questions, there are systemic implications behind what you decide to do: What do I eat? Is it healthy? How much does it cost? Is it hard to prepare? Did I get enough sleep last night? What is enough sleep? What should I watch on TV tonight? Should I read a book? Do I have enough money in the bank this month?

And there are the less frequent but equally important questions: Who should I vote for? Do I need a new car? What should I look for? Can I afford it? Is this cough serious? Should I go to the hospital? Should I take a vacation? Where?

Moving from consumerism to userism to design action demands that we become active participants in roles where we have traditionally been passive recipients. The explosion of social networking and the proliferation of user-generated content have made us more knowledgeable and more active, but we remain largely unaware of the systems that support this dynamic consumer/user culture. I think if we better understood these resources, we could put them to better use. In fact, we could become more intentional in how we use them.

Today, as services like healthcare are moving toward consumer-driven models-historically it has been managed by professionals from the top down-the responsibilities for managing the costs of care are being shifted to us. And yet, there is no real consumer marketplace to inform our decision-making. On top of that, our individual healthcare decisions affect everyone around us. For example, if you go to the emergency room every time you have a headache, you drive up costs for everyone in your network, and beyond. You've heard of voting with your wallet? Now you vote with your actions. That's how a service-driven culture operates. Each of us are dynamic nodes in a highly connected system, and we need to fully grasp that responsibility. But we need new tools and technologies to participate in this culture.

Becoming a responsible design actor

Design action is a mechanism for understanding, managing, and engaging with the complex demands and responsibilities of living in this complicated web of interactions that the drive free-market system. Throughout this series, you will learn the ins-and-outs of design manifested in everyday actions through a four-point process. We will use this process for seeing our role as consumers and users to inspire responsible decision-making in free-market systems.

1. Orient: Understand your current role and define the opportunities for change because design is about uncovering opportunity to affect some form of change.
You will learn how to observe the complex world of consumerism and userism by seeing how advertisers appeal to your desires and designers try to fulfill your needs.

2. Plan: Devise a means of influencing your role from passive to active by proposing new and novel solutions because design is about setting a realistic and attainable vision. You will learn how to set goals with measurable outcomes using profession project management tools used in design projects such as roadmaps and decision matrices.

3. Create: Make visual and physical tools for carrying out this plan because design is always visual. You will learn new skills for making ideas real for everyone to see with the creative tools used by artists and designers.

4. Act: Implement your plan because design is only useful when it's real.
You will learn how to communicate your ideas and measure your goals and adapt.

We all want help

The $10 billion a year self-help industry has made a killing on feeding our need for new skills, self-improvement, and personal enlightenment. We clearly desire new ways of engaging the world. And yet, why would we want to add more work to the laundry list of tasks that we have to accomplish every day? Two reasons: personal engagement and systemic wellness. When we engage we fuel change. Understanding that we are a part of a larger connected system means understanding that we can affect change on a large scale.

In the next post we will look at how to create a grocery list and prepare a meal using the four-point process of design action. We will apply a systems/research/ideation style of thinking to this ubiquitous task. When we choose food and it's means of preparation we are making decisions that affect the environment, the economy, and our bodies (which also in turn affects the people around us). Using design action, we will research, plan, and prepare a menu that satisfies our needs and desires. In the process, we will also understand the social ramifications of our choices, and even save a buck or two.

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A Call to Design Action