Thursday, February 13, 2014

Against irresponsible design and blind innovation

Webstock '13: Mike Monteiro - How Designers Destroyed the World 

"Creation without responsibility brings destruction" says Mike Monteiro in a lecture titled 'How Designers Destroyed the World' (thanks for the link, SF.) And he adds, showing a good understanding of consequential ethical reasoning: "We need to fear the consequences of our work more than we love the cleverness of our ideas (...) When the fear of taking responsibility is greater than the fear of causing harm, we stop becoming designers. We become agents of recklessness." Beautiful.

Monteiro mentions that he's been greatly influenced by Victor Papanek's Design for the Real World. I'm not surprised; Monteiro's discourse is hardly new. Still, considering our grim present, it's thrilling to hear someone so forcefully argue that designers must be held "responsible for what they put in the world." If you create infographics and visualizations, think about that. You first have a responsibility towards the planet, humankind, citizens, and only after that towards clients and employers —or even towards your artsy inner world. You must be a creator of devices that make this Earth a better place before you can even think of becoming a fine artist.

This is the latest in a series of polemics against design and technological innovation that I've watched and read in the past year (books: 1, 2, 3, etc.) in part to curb my favorable bias toward both. Another good one is the lecture below, by Benjamin Bratton. Don't be misled by its title. It's not a diatribe against the TED conferences, but against something entirely different and much more dangerous, the phenomenon we could call Gladwellesque techno-utopian oversimplification. Here you have some quotes, taken from the transcript:
"Instead of dumbing-down the future, we need to raise the level of general understanding to the level of complexity of the systems in which we are embedded and which are embedded in us. This is not about "personal stories of inspiration", it's about the difficult and uncertain work of demystification and reconceptualization: the hard stuff that really changes how we think. More Copernicus, less Tony Robbins." 
"Problems are not "puzzles" to be solved. That metaphor assumes that all the necessary pieces are already on the table, they just need to be rearranged and reprogrammed. It's not true." 
"If we really want transformation, we have to slog through the hard stuff (history, economics, philosophy, art, ambiguities, contradictions). Bracketing it off to the side to focus just on technology, or just on innovation, actually prevents transformation."
Again, if you design infographics and visualizations for a living, think about all this.