Can design savethe world? Only if it questions the brief

Your recent Comment (DW 31 July) argues that ‘design can help to save the world once practitioners fully grasp the importance of sustainability and the role they can play in promoting it’, and notes the effect it could have had in the disputed US presidential elections in 2000.

Much was made of the ballot paper design failure, but the design was equally bad when I worked on the 1984 campaign of Bill Bradley, and in support of presidential candidate Walter Mondale. No one said much then, because Ronald Reagan won the political debates. It was the banality of the politics of Al Gore and George W Bush, divisible only by a recount, that allowed design to become a (minor) issue.

We need to understand the big issues. We promote sustainability, but can’t define it, and haven’t debated the key ideas that inform it. Good design practice involves questioning the assumptions that underlie the brief: we need to apply this approach more effectively when others tell us what to think about an issue.

Nico Macdonald, Principal, Spy, London EC2



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