Ideology made artefact

November 28, 2018

When Fernanda and I were invited to organize a module in the Design Lead program at Hyper Island, we asked ourselves: what does it mean to be a designer and a design leader today?

To form the outline of this course, we started to reflect and articulate our outlook of the profession, tomorrows demands on us and the skills and behaviors necessary to lead the changes we need.

And as we began to look closer at our selves, our practice, and how we see the world we also started to discuss the role of design as a tool for leadership.

It made us question our roles while designing spaces, digital or physical, in which people would spend most of their time. It drove us to question how our design choices impact the future we will all live in.

In the end, the biggest question was about how we should prepare ourselves to become practitioners and leaders. To be responsible and effective: we had to look at our practices, on the outlook of the world, and our future.

Wanderer above the Sea of Fog by Caspar David Friedrich.

Take a minute and look around you: we have never been surrounded by so much technology.

We can connect to our families in Brazil, order tailored goods from China, watch a rocket land on its own from space in realtime, and chat with an almost-human agent about the “Snowflake Left”. These are feats of engineering, nativity, and ideology.

All these things have an agenda of their own: they have been designed to exist and function that way.

Design is ideology made artefact: these products and services were consciously made to embody the values of those who designed them. They reflect how their designers see the world.

If design is a metaphor for how we think about the world, then our experiences are limited by the eyes of the designers who create them. We live in the visions that the designers had about themselves, about these objects and about the world.

Acting as designers, we created the world we live in and changed behaviours and relationships to what they have become today. Furthermore, because we choose how to translate these ideas and ideals into a product, we also choose what to include or to exclude.

The act of design is political by nature; it chooses to show or hide, it empowers or deprives. And it is this ability is the hallmark of design: to generate alternative realities, some of which become future realities and everyday things.

The leaders and designers of tomorrow excel at what they make, or how they make it. More importantly, they need to be critical on why they make it and have agency to influence others.

We must address the different orders in which our practice operates: what type of organisations it supports, what agendas it furthers and what voices it emboldens.

We must be critical to interrogate our own work. We must look beyond what we make and what business we aid, but what values and ideologies we support. We must overcome the ability to imagine what else could be there, to probe why should it be there.

Any design that does not already Future, Fiction, Speculate, Criticize, Provoke, Discourse, Interrogate, Probe, Play, is inadequate designing

Cameron Tonkinwise, Just Design

The question for us, in this course, was how might we develop agency and criticality in the role of leaders of design?

I wanted to take a minute to thank all the thoughts, and ideas involved into this first draft.

First and foremost, Christopher-Robin, Clara Öquist and Cecilia Fendin for helping us to make this happen.

The students for putting the energy, time, faith and frustration to work.

And the whole team that made it happen, Josh and Brandon, Lauren, Laura, Sami, Rosie and Eloise, Oscar and Alex.

And lastly, everyone that inspired, discussed and build the foundations for this type of practice. Thank you Lorenzo, Kim, Joe, Molly, Christina, Dan, Cameron and many many others. You are countless to mention and too few out there.