Synergies, apophenia and design

Longtime readers who know my favourite soap box rants will see the patterns I am seeing now. The final trigger was receiving an email from the AIGA (how on earth I got on their mailing list I don’t know 🙂 about the upcoming Aspen Design Summit and I was struck by their themes this year, they encapsulate the trend I am seeing in more places than just design. Here’s the relevant bit,

where design leaders and professionals from business, government, culture and education will use the design process to brainstorm initiatives that promote worldwide, far-reaching change

…   

Education Innovation: Creating high school programs
and environments to engage all students and respond to the new three Rs: rigor, relevance and relationships.
      

Sustainable Community Development: Imagining the mechanisms and strategies for change in America’s urban environments.
      

Social Entrepreneurship: Launching a design revolution
to put an end to poverty in developing countries.

Now compare that to this snippet from the Japan Design Foundation,

Henceforth, in order to respond to the requirements of the 21st century on the basis of such achievements, the JDF will develop future Competitions into optimal occasions for bridging design with business by focusing on designs that embody the JDF principle “Design for Every Being,” and that provide solutions to current social challenges, including environmental problems and the aging society.

I’ve made bold the relevant sentence. There’s a sense that perhaps design – taken as a methodology or approach to problem solving – can hold a key to complex large scale problems we, as a world, face. Now add to this the increasing movement towards green technologies, VC funds are flowing and focusing, the increasing focus on ‘bottom of the pyramid’ development. and one can see how all of this comes together, fitting in as different parts of a common whole. That being a change of focus away from the short term revenue driven goals of the immediate present to a longer term thinking about the impact of our actions and technologies.

Now I’m not claiming this is anything new or has not been said before. But what I am noticing though is that diverse professions and industries, in different parts of the world are all slowly but surely moving toward the same point. And are increasingly visible. The one difference I note in this trend is that earlier, when I would read about being ‘green’, it was a word associated with activists, protestors, GreenPeace and saving the sealpups. Today, ‘green’ is a word increasingly associated with products, business models, venture capital and design.

Think about that for a minute. I did. I am. To me, imho, it’s like how being ‘connected to the earth’ was associated (or percieved) with ‘hippy commune flower child’ kind of thing, and now it’s mainstream – i.e. ‘The Man’ has bought into ecology and saving the whales.

Though I must say that one would question the "design revolution to solve poverty" sounds a little flaky, without further articulation, the concept in and of itself is extremely powerful. I’ve been working with a designer in India who has developed an open source sustainable product that supports the craftsmen, the needs of society and the individual while still covering the whole biodegradable ecological aspect of it.

So what’s my point? None at this moment other than to point out the synergies I’m seeing, what with my case of terminal apophenia. Is it a tipping point toward the empathy economy? The right brain/left brain whole brain stuff? That if you consider approaching your customers as human beings with needs, you can’t help but think of more than just getting your product to market? You think about how to recycle it once it’s over, the materials used, the energy invested to produce it. i.e. the system

I’ve a feeling this conversation will continue…

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