Design has been working this way in the world for a very long time. This is still largely the case.
While it is true, notes the architect and designer Nicolas de Manchaux in his introduction to this issue, that design has done much good in the world, “it has also shared responsibility for bringing us into the current environmental crisis; each new thing is perhaps not much better than the old thing.’
Of course, we try to do new things, better than what was before. But even big shifts are difficult. Take electric cars. They may not use fossil fuels, but they have their own trade-offs – a wide range of materials, from cobalt to copper to lithium, must be mined to make their batteries. Addressing the environmental problems that result from this will not achieve another change that is likely to have a far greater impact on reducing carbon emissions: figuring out how to get people to drive less.
In her posthumous review of design thinking, Rebecca Ackermann shows how this iterative problem-solving process inadvertently illustrated exactly what McCoy voiced. But Ackermann reports on the payoff of design today and sees reason for optimism in new efforts to create design tools that “are able to equitably serve different communities and solve different problems in the future.”
The design profession — not for the first time and probably not for the last — woke up to questions it had not asked before: who is it for? Who benefits (and who or why might it hurt)? Who is excluded? Have we explored unintended consequences? Are we solving the problem correctly?
These are just some of the questions we thought about when (so) developing this issue, which contains what you’ll see is not your typical “designer” story. What they reveal is the amazing breadth of what falls under the design umbrella today.
Will Douglas Haven delves into the use of artificial intelligence automation to develop new drugs, an approach that could provide cheaper pharmaceuticals in less time. Matthew Ponsford explores the changes taking place on the outskirts of Mexico City, where the cancellation of a major international airport project has created an opportunity to revive the nature and culture that once thrived there. Could this controversial desert point to the future of environmental design?
John-Clark Levine’s fascinating celebration of the 25th anniversary of Ultima Online, the forerunner of the metaverse, the massively multiplayer online role-playing game, shows how much the relative success or failure of a design depends on human behavior. Do people act as the designer intended or not?
And you’ll read about the movement in alternative prosthetics: the creation of devices that, rather than mimicking the appearance of a “normal” limb, don’t try to blend in with it. Obstacles ranging from conformist thinking to cost have inspired designers to forge a new path that could, Joanne Thompson writes, “help prosthetic users regain control of their self-image and feel more empowered, while breaking down some of the stigma around disability and limb differences.” .
If we accept that everything is design, and therefore everyone is a designer, then our expectations of the discipline may have been unrealistic, even misguided. “It would not be an exaggeration to say that designers are engaged in nothing less than the creation of modern reality,” wrote designer Rick Poinar in 1999. What can be different is that we are aware of the responsibility that comes with being involved in this process.