It’s Design, Stupid!

Posted by: Roy Wilbur

By Hilary Jay

Design Is all around us and yet we’re blind to It.   It’s ntil things go awry.

Then our vision becomes laser sharp. Hanging chads? Blown-out Firestone tires? Gun control systems! Design gone bad. It picks at us, nips at our ankles, hangs in our face. Bad design is annoying to the point of deep aggravation.

An early iteration of the Big Belly trashcan littering Philadelphia’s streets represents sheer lack of functional consideration. The can itself, fitted with solar panels to power trash compacting, was meant to save multiple waste collections per week and provide a smaller garbage footprint. But there’s a grievous design error. To open the can, users must take the germ encrusted handle firmly in hand. This is a first-class design problem with a simple solution: foot pedals.

Failure and reiteration makes for good design. Really good design functions blissfully well, presents us with a handsome package and has enough sex appeal to get us where it counts. Form and function, spiced with emotional allure. That kind of design hits us as a felt sense. It sets us at ease, calms us, imparts happiness. Good design is as simple as a paper clip, as complex as an urban plan, as political as a country’s flag.

Recognizing good design is about learning to see.

Design is all over transportation: the vehicles we ride in, the pathways and roadways we chart, the innovation around all the machines-tar making and delivery, computer mapping systems, assembly line mechanization and I’m not even thinking about the profes­sionals in transportation whose business cards say “designer.”

Health care is steeped in design, it’s just pretty bad – scrubs, antiquated interaction systems, furniture that’s neither ergonomic nor appealing. Nothing is more important than our health and yet good design applied to health, well-being and recovery exists in a rarefied zone. Waiting rooms, patient rooms, test rooms and corridors remain painfully beige – mind-numbing, uninspired, depressing. Quantitative research confirms a greater sense of well-being, a quicker recovery period and a more positive experience overall in rooms painted with calming colors – blues, maybe greens and their tints. We have evidence-based research, but it is not affecting interior design outcomes. Game changers – the people with the power – seem oblivious. Why would that be? Color use, light use, art installations, garden walks, low noise levels, all commonly promote health and emotional positivity. Yet, the majority of gynecologists still haven’t installed ceiling art – something, anything – to focus on during an exam.

Money is the answer. The value of design for the uninitiated requires a dol­lar assignment. Without that, corporate leaders and communities worldwide are not likely to invest or remain invested in design when ROI flattens, when function is the trump card, when we forget that empathy and dignity are cornerstones to human well-being.

How does design become invaluable to those outside the tribe?

Consider Design with a capitol “D.” That capital “D” reflects the union of all the diverse design disciplines – from architecture to interior design, fashion to product design, urban planning to graphic design. Capitol “D” acknowledges that Design is powerful, critical, fundamental and unavoidable. Everything is designed (and if that’s not clear to you by now, please stop reading and start again from the top).

Across the board, we make decisions about what we own, how we interact with our community and our families, how we vote, and where we place our priorities. Choice is the cornerstone to making design decisions. Choices belong to us individually unless we choose to hand over that right.

To make good choices requires thinking with a design mind. Tim Brown, leader of the global design firm IDEO, describes it as a “human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.” And how do we approach humanitarian problem solving? We emphasize the population of users; we ask a pivotal question to resolve a key issue; we pull together information from 360 degrees; prototype possible solutions; go back to the start when solutions fail; move forward when they don’t.

Design with a capital D is central to the economic, social and cultural growth of every city in America. But more fundamental than that: Design is the single thread that runs through every aspect of and every transaction in our lives. We cannot afford to break that line and watch our connec­tions dissolve, or to drop the single thread, allowing stagnation to set in.

Design is not just a beautiful commodity. It is a flexible process that gives form to fresh ideas – innovative ideas, worthy of investigation, perhaps even integration into our 21st century lives. Regardless of whether you’re a card-carrying designer, you design multiple times a day: your face and outfit, your pathway to work or school, your personal practices, your way of engaging with people, the way you organize your world.

Design like you give a damn.

If you don’t, who will?

Hilary Jay is an award-winning journalist, and a design + health strategist living in Philadelphia. @2hilaryjay

MooreWomenArtists welcomes comments and a lively discussion, but comments are moderated after being posted. For more details please read our comment policy