For Future Creatives

I’ve been thinking about design’s role for quite some time. About the real impact it has, the challenges we’ve faced and those that are yet to come. About the ever-changing nature of our titles, the disparity between men and women. I’ve been wondering what the future looks like for our industry. So when asked to speak at the graduation day of Billy Blue College of Design and CATC I found this a perfect time to get all these thoughts off my chest.

Thanks to Mat Groom for being my editor-in-chief and voice tutor.

Good morning graduates, family, friends, and distinguished guests.

Look around you. The world is a mess. We’re on the verge of massive disruptive technological shifts. We’re panicking that robots might one day take our jobs. We’re toying with the idea of merging our consciousnesses with artificial intelligence.We’re handing responsibility for our vehicles, our homes and our children over to machines.

But despite these terrifyingly huge technological leaps, 64% of our planet still lives with virtually no access to the internet. This is representative of a wider problem — our world is resistant to openness and inclusion. Companies put profit and scale ahead of their own workers. Societies are segregated by income. Success is still defined by geography. The world is a mess, and very few people are doing something about it.

At a time when the world needs leadership more than ever, we see less of it. Many leaders measure their success on their lack of sleep, the cars they drive, or the zeroes attached to their income. Those that lead our countries are building walls, and ignoring the realities of our planet. We are surrounded by leaders who are risk-averse and conservative.

And where has that gotten us? I say we need a new type of leadership. Creative leadership. And the good news? We can already see that happening.

We’ve seen a graphic designer and industrial designer single-handedly redefine the hospitality industry. We’ve seen a designer build a platform to turn community enthusiasm into a force that bring tens of thousands of projects to life. We’ve seen designers question human happiness and reconsider the everyday challenges and routine of living in a modern urban city.

So does it surprise anyone in this room that there are designers thinking about ethical fashion, organic fabrics and fair trade? That their clothes evoke social conventions, notions of value and worth? Should we be shocked that there are designers in almost every venture capital firm? Designers reinventing what technology is capable of? Creatives blending sci-fi with our day-to-day experiences without us even noticing.

Design goes hand-in-hand with entrepreneurship and leadership in every industry. Yet why does it still amaze us when designers create businesses that are not only financially successful, but emotionally fulfilling for their employees and beneficial to the global community?

We shouldn’t be surprised.

Designers are game changers. Here’s why: toxic masculinity, money and power chokes the colour, creativity and ingenuity out of the business world and designers are the ones with the ability to restore it.

Because we understand that design is about impact, not hype. Because we’re taught to understand human needs, and we’re able to truly care about other people — over and over, every single day. Because we’re always curious — whether we like it or not.

So now, you’ve studied. You’re graduating. And it’s time to use these skills to benefit the world.

It won’t be easy though. Probably the most dangerous thing about designers like us is that we can be selfish– we can get lost lost in petty, abstract self-centered arguments instead of paying attention to what’s going on right in front of us. But if you’re self-aware, you can push past that. You can choose what you pay attention to. You can choose to focus on what will improve real lives, not your own. You’ll be doing it without the school’s safety net, though. It’s the real thing out there. Real people, real experience and real mistakes. But those real mistakes will teach you real and valuable lessons. And I promise — those lessons will never stop.

The changes that our world has seen already will be nothing compared to the changes that are to come. But we designers thrive on change. We’re not afraid of learning, day in and day out. It keeps us on our toes. Great challenges. Great opportunities. Great responsibility. Great power. This cycle will define your life. Yours more than mine. And much more than the generations that came before us.

This world full of challenges…it’s yours. It’s confusing. It’s less defined. You’re not going to have a traditional career path like your parents did. You might not have the security of a steady pay check — at least at the start. But you will have the freedom to create real, meaningful impact.

Because we need you to.

We always need fresh ideas. We need your perspectives. We need your desire to rewrite the rules. To tell us what’s possible. And I know you want to do it. You’ve chosen to be a designer because you care. I’m just asking you to care more, to care bigger. To care about the things that matter. Care about design. Care about how things are put together. Care when things don’t work. Care about fixing them. Because I promise — it’s hard, and it’s confusing, and it’s scary, and it’s thrilling and it’s rewarding and it’s a life unquestionably worth living.

So get to work. The world can’t wait for you any longer.