Photo by Joel Filipe on Unsplash.

Designing for Legacy.

Planet-Centered Design.

Sergio Estella
May 15, 2018 · 6 min read

What does ‘design’ mean for me? To me, design is something that leads to the creation of things that people can use. That can be reused. That can be reproduced. That can be adapted depending on different uses, contexts or even different cultures. But also, something that will last. I’ve come across many such designs that we all remember — perhaps even would love to have designed ourselves — such as Paul Rand’s IBM branding, pieces of art painted centuries ago (I personally love Goya’s work and the details he painted with just a few brushstrokes), or ancient Egyptian pyramids. Even some of the designs Nature offered us as presents were masterpieces, like reptiles. There are many things in Nature that have been perfectly designed, providing inspiration to many ‘designers’ and inventors like Leonardo Da Vinci.

Did this lizard inspire Spiderman’s suit? Photo by Ashes Sitoula on Unsplash

This is amazing and I bet most of you agree, but to me design needs to be redefined. We might need to deliver ‘long lasting design’ but it’s not just about creating something that physically exists for the rest of time — it’s about creating something that has an impact that lasts. Whatever it is we do, it needs to leave behind a legacy. I’ll do my best to explain what I mean.

Mother Nature has given us everything, from life to a hometown. Freedom to think by ourselves and be different to the rest of the species. Just everything. She’s always been so generous and comprehensive, and yet humankind has behaved like a grumpy little kid that complains and talks back to their Mum, as though she were guilty for all things he dislikes. But we’re not children and we shouldn’t treat our planet this way. We’re selfish, disrespectful and inconsiderate of the species we share it with, and it’s time for everyone become aware; to step up and take action!

If you’ve reached this line you may be thinking, what does this have to do with design? Good question! That’s what I want to debate here, what is a designer’s work all about? I think we are focused on certain things but we should prioritise others. I’d like to talk about what I think is the most important contribution we designers can do, Planet-Centered Design. An approach that puts the needs of our planet at the center of all our choices.

In today’s world, design work is about solving problems for brands, startups, products, goods and services and so on. It’s also about helping organisations work better, helping them improve processes or innovate, using the processes we designers use in our everyday work. This is what the market demands. The market demands so because that’s what society demands too. Am I right? Depending on what kind of design we talk about — industrial design, interior design, branding, digital design and on and on. But let’s get specific. Let’s talk about data and digital design, and the role they have in developing meaningful services and products, because I reckon this is where we can make the most impact.

First things first, in digital design, we have to evaluate what companies want to sell. Also, what users want to buy or use, and make this journey the best one possible through user experience tactics, for both, to make users return and recommend their platform, and for companies to sell more. Is this a fair summary?

Because I think I would be wrong to agree, I’d like to go one step back and analyse why we behave like this.

I agree that most of ‘our needs’ are based on what’s around us and what we’ve learnt. Those are fair reasons to be drawn into this mud, but do we really know where all these influences come from? Why do I suddenly need a new pair of shoes I really don’t need, another book that’s been recommended by a shop, or to start using a new app? Most of us consume the same information from the same kind or sources (same reading, same algorithms, same TV shows, same politicians, same brands and so on) because I think we humans are comfortable and reliant to be part of the bigger society and no longer live in isolation. We live in a global world. Kind of. More than half of the people on Earth are not connected to the rest of the world, and the ones who are supposed to be connected are separated by language, culture, and opportunity.

My two cents is, why don’t we go one step further instead? Maybe it’s time to stop being trustful and comfortable and make our own informed decisions. Are we aware if we are doing what we need to do? I read this news lately and I’m still quite shocked. Are we making the right decisions? Are we focused on the important issues we need to solve? Are those choices what we need as a species, for our families and ourselves? This is why I think we need to get out our comfort zones: to make better, more conscious, and informed decisions. Comfort is stopping creativity and we need to focus on our Planet or nothing will last forever for our species.

This is my call to all designers!

Aleksander Mikhailovich Rodchenko.

What if instead of working to sell more, we use our abilities to do something useful for everyone? Why don’t we apply design thinking to our Planet? Here is where I’d change the Human/User-Centered design approach into Planet-Centered Design. We can help improve things like climate change, biodiversity, poverty, hunger, sickness and other things we still don’t know or want to accept they are happening!!! If we stick on the idea that we can’t, we are just being lazy, but if we do something proactively, it will change! As designers, we can and must change things. To live our lives feeling we’re doing something to improve the situation, because… the situation can still change! Let’s take action!

As designers, I think that we can also do our bit. Everyone can, but our work is capable of changing things and achieving impact. Let me tell you about some things I realised we could do, and try to do, at Vizzuality and hopefully, you’ll agree on and make the choice to change the way you design.

Design for long term. Design things that endure and evolve over time — and remain useful and used. Think about the needs of the people that will consume what you designed, do they need a new pair of shoes, or another book that will go on a big unread pile? Why not helping corporations change some behaviours? They may be able to produce in another country, do it in a more sustainable way and give their workers better job conditions. Or persuade government to pass new laws, who knows I bet there are many things you can help them with. Help people make better-informed and more sustainable decisions. We deserve to understand the impact of what we do, to understand what’s happening with resources that are running out and find alternatives. Even if they don’t think about their behaviours, what you design must be sustainable. Trust me, we designers are in a position of power right now that puts us in a privileged place at the start of a chain of events that can make a big difference.

I think that it’s time to move from Human-Centred Design to Planet-Centred Design. Maybe you’re here just for a while and you don’t mind, but I hope that after reading those words, you will at least think about the important needs we, us humans, have and that some of you feel compelled to get on this train and change your behaviours or decide to start thinking on the consequences your design may have in many different ways.

And to be honest, this advice is not just for designers, but also developers, scientists, humanists, engineers, politicians, doctors, EVERYONE! Just remember one thing, our Planet wasn’t designed just for one species, let’s take care of the things that really matter and be graceful and take care of it. Join in!!!

This writing is the fruit of all the data we work with, all the amazing people we work with and all the knowledge they share, how I enjoy my life, all my love for the planet and the desire I have my children and the next generation to come, to be able to enjoy the planet the way we do. Don’t be naive: the planet is going to continue whether the human mankind will or not.

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