A New Yorker walks into a San Francisco start up…

Last night I participated in #SFdesignweek’s designers debate club arguing against the proposed resolution: “Design can change the world.” Our team lost (it was pretty brutal) but I stand by my opening remarks. Here is the best recollection of what I said and why I’ll never get a design job in ’Frisco.


Design can change the world. Are you kidding me? Are we having a debate or a therapy session?

Designers will do anything to convince themselves we are not in a service industry. Why are we so desperate to make ourselves feel better? Because we feel GUILTY and we have to reconcile what we do professionally with the world we live in. We WANT to save the world so we repeat our daily affirmations on our way to work…

“Design can change the world.”

…on our way to yoga…

“Design can change the world.”

This debate is an attempt to assuage the guilt we already have and know we have because we’re here doing THIS instead of something truly meaningful.

We cannot congratulate ourselves.

We drink fancy coffee and eat free gummy bears and free catered dinners meanwhile the median cost of rent in SF is $4,300 dollars. Is idealism truly that desperate here that we equally applaud free wifi in Africa and a $1,500 smart oven that “smart” preheats your soylent to save you a little extra time for cross-fit and netflix?

Change the world? Design can’t even change the design industry. Let’s talk about something meaningful and actionable like why we have six dudes and one lady on stage. We don’t need a debate about design’s place in the world — we need a reckoning.

YOUR JOB WILL NOT SAVE YOU

Jon, Daniel, and Enrique are here to make you feel better about design.

I am not.

This debate isn’t going to solve your guilt problem

it’s just the problem of living

that doesn’t mean you’re evil

it just means you must reckon

like a grownup

like we all have and do

with being fucking alive

on this planet

Yes, I too have chosen this as my profession.

but I have come to peace with precisely the trade I have made — and how I compensate for that debt, and how I am on the planet, in my own way, with the people I care about.

So don’t let these boys come up here and whisper sweet nothings in your ears about saving the world with free wifi and clean water. We could go all day tit for tat about how design has changed or samed the world. Talking about design to designers is like talking to a brick wall about bricks. Designers think everything is design. All professionals see their craft amongst the world … “When you think about it — and I mean really think about it — *everything* is meat distribution engineering.” — meat distribution engineer.

Ultimately the rhetoric behind this debate resolution is elitist self-aggrandizing propaganda and voting for it won’t make you feel better about yourself. Negating won’t make you feel better either but it’ll help make your peace with your false religion.


Thanks to all my friends for our debates and rants in bars and slack chats. Alicia DeSantis, Austin Kleon, Michael Strickland, Justin Thomas Kay, Mike Monteiro, Erika Hall, and Alan McLean.