Design must widen role to serve a social cause

We’re all designers! We all shape our environments, fashion our personas and design our interactions – yes, Hilary Cottam included. The fantastic thing is that as a professional designer, I get paid to contribute to my own progress and that of others by imagining and making real the things that make tangible change possible.

Hence I’m intrigued by Dick Powell’s view on ‘the recent brouhaha’ that is Designer of the Year (Letters, DW 7 July). Despite rightly acknowledging the creativity of others, Powell is defending an increasingly limited and isolating definition of ‘designer’ that still tends towards the black-boxing of the process. But couldn’t we enable positive change by helping all those who could be applying the design process to make ‘prosperity and well-being’ happen commercially or in the public sector?

Design is a social activity with outcomes that exist in a social context. And, as Design Week points out, the new wave of graduates have an intuitive social context to their work that will, without a doubt, change design practice – they have no interest in kettles for kettles’ sake.

The output of this new generation plays a part in dynamic and integrated systems of services. As such, it can’t happen behind closed doors. As a social activity, design and designers more than ever have a role to facilitate and realise the creativity and expertise of people other than themselves – including users. Take comfort. The genuinely unique skills we have are of increasing value. We’re too important to fear for our livelihoods. But design is too important to keep it to ourselves.

Joe Heapy, Co-director, Engine Group, London NW5

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