Solutions aren’t enough

As we enter a new decade, Adrian Shaughnessy thinks clients should give designers more creative freedom – for without it we’d never have had the iPod

Was that the fastest decade ever? One moment it was the eve of the new millennium and Tony Blair was having a knees-up with the Queen at the Millennium Dome, next minute it’s 2010 and we’re staring into the second decade of the 21st century. Gulp. But let’s not be too gloomy. Here are some things I’d like to see happen in 2010 that will make life better for most of us.

I’d like to see a wider appreciation of the critical role designers have to play in the digital revolution that is challenging the old media hegemony. If books, newspapers and magazines really are going to be replaced by their electronic equivalents, they will only work if the content is specifically designed for screen-based media. Too often the electronic alternatives to traditional media are grossly inferior to the originals. They needn’t be. But only if graphic designers are involved.

I’d like to see design with a social focus find an increased role in the world of work and professional practice. This is the sort of pronouncement that well-meaning, publicly funded think tanks make, ignoring the fact that designers have to earn a living, and pay wages and taxes.

But something has changed. I spend a lot of time in design schools. Previously, students seemed only intent on joining the style wars and making radical gestures, but now there is a new impetus towards producing work that has social worth. Maybe, just maybe, design for the common good will come to be valued as much as design that ‘sells stuff’.

I’d like to see greater use of the ability possessed by many designers to think more daringly than people from other disciplines. The notion of ‘design thinking’ is taking root in progressive business circles in the US, but I’m talking about something more basic. I’m talking about the ability of designers to do ‘what if’ thinking. I’m talking about the ability of designers’ to think intuitively without over-strategising their thinking. I’m talking about the ability of designers to ask those difficult questions that have earned them a reputation for cussedness and stubbornness.

I’d like to see designers stop regarding themselves as only problem-solvers. There’s a need for problem-solving – but there’s also a need for people who can see opportunities and imagine new ways of doing things. If designers only ever allow their creative energies to start flowing when there is a problem to be solved, then design becomes less of a force for change and invention. The design of the iPod didn’t solve a problem. Instead, it created a new opportunity. It was a visionary endeavour that revolutionised the way we listen to and store music.

I’d like to see the people who organise public-sector tendering for design projects abandon Kafka-esque box-ticking procurement in favour of proper evaluation and assessment by people who know what design is. This is not special pleading for designers, rather it is a rational observation that buying design is not like buying envelopes for the stationery cupboard. It is also a desire to put a stop to the waste of public funds by bodies that spend more time and money on procurement than commissioning.

Finally, in 2010 I’d like to walk into an Apple Store and find a free machine to test. Has anyone ever walked into an Apple Store and found a computer that wasn’t in use? What time do you have to get there to find one free? Happy New Year.

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  • Ian Swift November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Public sector tendering – what a f*******ing joke. Adrian – ya hit the nail on the head. I recently tried this line of enquiry from a posting on this very website, and was confronted with the worst designed website I’ve ever seen. I eventually worked it out and got myself registered. Then to be bombarded with spam urging me to pay £250 plus for an update to my account and even more money to go on a seminar entitled ‘How to win tenders in the public sector’. What do they take us for ! We have a long way to go – theres lots of thick blood red tape out there.

  • Youssef Sarhan November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Reiterating what you said,

    Designers need to be more then problem-solvers, they need to act as inventors of ideas.

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