Why This?

By essay

Having scoured work on ethical or sustainable design for the past 20+ years, I’ve found the vast majority unhelpful. For someone who happens to be into work and looking for meaning and purpose, I’ve gone from inspired to disillusioned to resigned. Many essays and publications in this space are often some mix of…

  • scorn-bragging and self-promotion
    • my elite social impact/prestige culture job that I procured through privileged social networks is saving the world while the rest of y’all are ruining it and need to do better
    • the future is the niche my company works in, I publicly vow never to work in other areas or sectors
  • muddled theory rooted in design’s inherent focus on signs and signifiers
    • the style I like is inherently good for society
    • things that are politically unpopular right now are bad design
    • I like to mention Marx sometimes
  • wishful thinking
    • designers have enormous power
    • unethical design is bad business
    • the future will be full of the kind of work I (or my paying students) want to do
    • the most important work will be recognized and compensated accordingly
  • useful nuggets totally decontextualized
    • here’s how to best approach design (may not be applicable or adaptable to 90% of working designers)
  • vanity features on above designers

The best critique I see out there now is “Oh wow, contemporary design is rooted in neoliberalism, and it sucks.” That sure resonates. And it’s taken decades to get here. But we need to dig in. We need nuance and detail and a way forward. If work is critical or speculative, that needs to be contextualized in our current economic realities or it becomes irrelevant – a reflection of the systems it claims to critique. We need strategies we can act on and apply to our lives and work. Something clear, logical, and bold, that is reproducible and works in many contexts – you know, like good design.

So this is inspired mostly by bigger ideas and forces outside design and confirmed by a long, varied lived experience. It’s trying to translate ideas from different paradigms that go against our common habits of mindset and make them more accessible through specific application. Maybe it can help someone like the 20-year-old me. But I believe, perhaps arrogantly or naively, that if enough people get into similar ideas it can help us all.

Inspiration

  • Bullshit Jobs
  • Small is Beautiful
  • IWW
  • Architecture Lobby
  • Team Human (Douglas Rushkoff) – a paradigm shift towards a deeper collective human experience
  • Cory Doctorow- super accessible political, economic and tech policy explainers
  • Know Your Enemy – nuanced examination of politics and the role of public intellectuals
  • Hazy Moon
  • Enspiral – started me on a journey on co-ops and how to work collectively
  • McKenzie Wark
  • Transition Movement
  • Emergent Strategy
  • Winners Take All – a critique of the neoliberal corporate style of “saving the world”
  • White Awake – radical anti-racism
  • Allied Media Conference
  • Aspiration Tech
  • Platform Coops
  • Tech Workers Coalition

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