A Personal Manifesto towards Design

As designers go, I love untangling the ‘fuzzy front-end’ of a complicated problem, especially those that have some sort of social dynamic to experiment with.

In the last few weeks, I have begun to see that playing with this social dimension has the potential to be a rather manipulative act. As who are we to shape another person’s life? Or use the data we collect to sell this said user more. I think designers need to be careful, as it easy to not be aware of the implications our designs/proposals may have.

This of course depends on the autonomy given to the designer, the unsaid motivations of the client and what their response is to the given proposal.

One of my goals for coming back to graduate school, was to attain tools/skills to make this dance with the client/employer/employee/project team more), aligned, transparent. I would like this process to make each member more aware of underlying assumptions and problems. This includes making the unsaid be actually said. This is a backlash to my repeated failed accounts of stating “Listen to me product managers!”

I would never want to malign another’s being. Having read about service design concepts, about labor, and having tools such as ‘aesthetic labor’ as a tool in your toolbox, the reality of the designer then becomes- “designing people’. In this situation a designer’s proposal can adversely or favorably affect one’s working conditions. And if a designer’s role is to make an idea acceptable and attractive, this attractiveness can mask deception. So awareness and morals in reaction to this, are an imperative.

With this in mind, the following is how I want to work post-graduation. It is a bit of a mix of personal goals and ethical guidelines to hold myself to.

  • Strong opinions
     
    I have gotten constant feedback that I am too soft spoken in my opinions, that I need to be more confident. This is my reminder to do so.
     But on the flip side, Last year at TEI, one of the activities was to design a manifesto, and represent it in some sort of tangible form. Our manifesto stated that designers needed to be more direct in their opinions, it is ok to put yourself out there, and ok to not produce stuff that is ‘safe’, it is important for designers to tackle the issues that matter most to them.
  • Don’t be complacent.
     This to me is the trickiness that I was trying to get at above. It is a mix of trying to be aware, and insert and assert yourself where needed. This also gets to my challenge of having people listen to the designer once there.
  • Ask more questions
     
    Curiosity breeds curiosity. Awareness comes from curiosity; curiosity can also be a form of alignment. If there is curiosity in a group, things come out of the woodwork and can be addressed, instead of left unsaid.
  • Protect the idea of what it means to be “human”
     Understand what it means to be human, and to ensure that one’s essence is always kept in the fold when on a project.
  • Give Autonomy/Ownership/Respect
     Allow people to make their own decisions.
  • Allow for Slow Design
     
    Don’t always default to a ‘keep it simple’ mentality. First you must understand the user.
  • Use data only to help people.
     
    Gathering and using Data for the purpose of selling goods, tracking and selling an individual’s data without their knowledge is wrong. Data used to genuinely help someone I can get behind. But this needs to be done in a way that is evident to the person whose data it is, and it was their choice of what data to provide.
  • Sustainable Practices
     
    While this has always been a part of my mantra, sustainability has extended itself recently to that of ‘personally sustaining’ and whether a project (or a design) is able to sustain ventures of interest.
  • Let the process allow for discoveries
     Stress less about end result when designing something, it will emerge.