Margaret Gould Stewart: University of Michigan Taubman College Future of Design
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Margaret Gould Stewart: University of Michigan Taubman College Future of Design<br>Margaret Gould Stewart, User Experience Manager, YouTube,presented Oct. 10, 2009, at the Future of Design conference. University of Michigan's Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning hosted the Future of Design conference, Oct. 9 & 10, 2009. Thirty designers, critics and provocative thinkers brainstormed how design is evolving across various disciplines including architecture, landscape architecture, interactive, industrial, and interior design. The presentations were free and open to the public. The speakers presented their views in 15-minute segments. For more information about the event: www.taubmancollege.umich.edu/futureofdesign
Thank you so much and thanks to Monica and the University of Michigan. It’s a real privilege to be here. I wanted to share with you some of the ways in which I see the practice and purpose of design evolving over the years ahead.
My career was spent mostly in the digital realm and my perspective has definitely been shaped by that fact. But I think some of the themes that I’m going to raise today about what we will design, how we will design it and who will be doing the designing, have lessons for disciplines across the design landscape and it’s a testament to the great line-up that Monica brought together because I’ve already heard so many similarities as different as digital design is to landscape architecture product design, architecture and I think you’ll see some really interesting themes and similarities.
So, historically designers have been assessed by whether they could imagine and produce effective meaningful beautiful experiences for people. And the goal has traditionally been to kind of conceive of the experience you’re designing from end to end in essence to close the loop on the design. In order to do this, we’ve relied on our instincts, training, experience or good taste. These things have allowed us to make well-informed assumptions. And well-informed assumptions are good in my practice, you know, user-experience researches, critical to user-experience design and keeps us from designing for ourselves and instead focuses us on the experience and the needs and wants of others. These are good and valuable methods. But if you want to be a part of the design of the future, you need to get go of designing for close system and embrace open systems. Now, close system is a design that prescribes how the resulting product will be used end to end, it’s like a Rubik’s cube. Now, Rubik’s cube is fun for a while but it can only do one thing and usually its shelf life is pretty short. I’m sure anybody who grew up in the 80’s probably has a Rubik’s cube in a box packed away somewhere. Once you solved it, the motivation to do it again kind of diminishes. Now, an open system provides people with a platform that doesn’t try to dictate the outcome or even the purpose of the use. Now, we’ve known that this has been true since we were kids. Somehow we forget it as we grow up. We forget all the good stuff as we grow up actually, it’s what I’ve realized the older that I get. It’s like comparing a Rubik’s cube to a set of wooden blocks or (UNINTELLIGIBLE) or a simple rag doll that doesn’t have a face.
The open-ended choice are the ones that have the longest lifespan and they tell children I believe in you, your ideas, your needs and I’m in service of those things. Make of me what you will because you know more what you need than I do. And these things, they can be used to imagine all kinds of things. As designers in the future will write the book but will knowingly leave the final chapter unfinished. Well, let the final chapter of -- I wonder how this thing is going to be used to kind of play itself out in the market place and while open systems can seem risky they also produce phenomenal transformations in a way that people relate to communication, to technology and each other. Many of the high impact designs of the digital age didn’t end up getting used the way that their inventors envisioned because they were left open for the community to absorb, iterate and to redefine. Google started as a project, not about search but about annotating the web. Twitter started as a service for bike messengers. And these inventors kind of put their concepts out there and the products took unexpected turns and to their credit they adapted and they learned from people. They didn’t cling to their brilliant vision about what their thing was going to become. In the future, in addition to adapting to unexpected usage will actually knowingly design open platforms. People can take new and unforeseen directions and companies are already starting to engage in this right now.
Apple, a company famously protective of its brand and user-experience is allowing third-party developers to create their own apps and sell them through the Apple App Store. Now of course, they need to be approved before launch. So, Mr. Jobs hasn’t completely drunk the Kool-Aid. But long time followers of his brand and UX Management will agree that this is astonishing and for me really inspiring. It also happens to be enormously profitable for both Apple and the developers who are developing these applications. The concept of open system maybe scary but if Steve Jobs can do it, all of you can too. By designing open systems we can capitalize in the creativity and ingenuity of millions of people and won’t rely solely on the training and instincts of a few. We can remove barriers to entry, fuel small business growth and prosperity and much of -- across a much broader and diverse segment of the human population. It’s like buying a million lottery tickets instead of just one, your chances of winning get better and better. In the future, open systems will continue to fuel great innovations in design and usage for technological breakthroughs.
Now, the idea of open system is something else related to this. It’s something that I believe in the future of design that we have to focus less on scarcity and (UNINTELLIGIBLE) access and more on abundance and ubiquity of access. We have to act less like elephants and more like frogs. Now, years ago, I read this really fascinating book when I was pregnant with my son who is now 10 years old, it was called The Natural History of Parenting. And it explained all the different models by which the creatures of the natural world go about propagating their species. And the relationship they have, if any, to their offspring. Now, how does this relate to the future of design you might ask. Well, in our common model, we’ve much more often approach ideation like elephants. We only produce a few cherished offspring and we invest enormous amounts of time and energy and capital to ensure that they reach adulthood exactly as we want them to. We pre-select who should have access to the tools and (UNINTELLIGIBLE) audience and assume that only a select few have wasted -- that are worth of being heard, that’s the way that media has traditionally worked. Movies, books, news coverage, it’s hard to get an audience if you’re no a part of the elite. Access is scarce and there are only a few voices.
Now, frogs on the other hand are by human standards dead beat moms and dads. They expand a ton of energy -- well, let’s be clear. The females expand a ton of energy laying a lot of eggs and then finding a safe place to store them and then they let fate take over. Now, many eggs don’t end up as frogs but a few in the right number by the math of nature survive and flourish. Now, this is useful metaphor for the current explosion and access to personal expression and communication tools. Blogs, Twitter, YouTube and the like are all examples of open systems that break open access to media and distribution like never before. We don’t know exactly what people will do with these tools and we don’t know who will produce something extraordinary. In the future, we’ll be more like frogs and less like elephants because while opening up the flood gates to personal expression and communication tools creates a flood of potential noise, it also creates the most diverse set of faces and voices ever since and heard in human history. The breakdown of the hierarchy of communication and how stuff is made means that there are many different people, different types of people, participating in the market place of ideas and describing the human experience.
Now, why is this important? Well, there’s two reasons. Because the more widespread these system become the more fluent a broad (UNINTELLIGIBLE) humanity becomes in telling their own stories. It allows people across the globe to witness and interact the true diversity of humans in a way that we’ve never been able to do in the past and it allows a world where everyday people with talent but no connections or budget or any contacts in the power structure can rise to the top. It’s a media meritocracy. There’s another reason. Even though most of these folks using these tools day-to-day to inform the world (UNINTELLIGIBLE) aspects of their lives, what I had for lunch, the bus is late. Occasionally, something happens that turned someone ordinary on an ordinary day into something extraordinary. Now, we saw this happened recently with the protest in Iran. One day people were using their mobile phones for everyday things. Maybe capturing a video of day-to-day events, sharing them with friends and family, but the next day a protest broke out and everyday people caught it on video and shared it with the world. Now, these weren’t professional political bloggers who created these videos, these are regular people who would become fluent in digital communication tools, even though they lived in a place it doesn’t support free speech. And when things broke down, they had the tools they needed, the access to an audience and the confidence that their story mattered and it would be heard. They were uniquely poised to do what CNN could not. And this course of voices is no longer filtered by governments, traditional media or corporations.
In the future, if you’re unhappy if you’re unhappy with the service a company gives you, you don’t torture yourself with one of those awful telephone directory systems to talk to somebody. You’re on Twitter and you tell all of your followers. Now, smart corporations are already listening and responding directly. The single human voice has been amplified. This is democratic process in action. It’s a triumph of the individual over the majority. Abundance of voices and ubiquity access to tolls will lead to greater self-determination, political change, economic development and knowledge sharing on a scale that we have never seen before from the masses emerge the magnificent and the ordinary can become extraordinary on the turn of the dime. So what does this mean in terms of the kind of works -- work that designers should focus on moving forward? As an industry, we’ve done a pretty good job of serving the top section of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
Now, for those of you who are not familiar, I’ll give you a very simplified explanation. Maslow explained that human needs could be described as the levels of the pyramid. And working from the bottom up, he moved from needs to safety and security, all the way up to comfort and what he calls self actualization. Humans have a very hard time addressing their needs at the top of the pyramid if their needs at the bottom haven’t been met. In the future, we must, and will spend significantly more time using our abilities and methods as designers to address the bottom part of the pyramid. In fact, as individuals and as an industry, we have a moral obligation to do so. We need to adapt a greater focus on service. We have to address the highly complex and very (UNINTELLIGIBLE) issues related to reinventing government, healthcare, education systems. Address issues of water shortage and environmental destruction and design programs and systems to end poverty. Design can and will make a difference in these areas. After all, the vast majority of the world are stuck at the bottom of the pyramid. In the future, we’ll see a much larger percent of designer’s time focused on these areas where humankind most needs it. There are already firms and designers doing great work in these areas. And we’ve heard about some of it today architecture of humanity building sustainable housing often in the wake of natural disasters. The Design Council in the UK helping citizens help each other manage their chronic illnesses. But these still feel like exceptions in our industry. Where is our design peace core, our Nobel design -- Nobel Price for design or designer’s hippocratic oath? Where are the designer’s roles in public schools, hospitals and government? We can do better and we will do more.
Behold the designer. Now, can anybody tell me how you can tell this is a designer? It’s his fancy eyeglasses. There is one thing I can surely tell you about the future of design and it’s the designer will wear and continue to wear awesome eyeglasses. And in fact, I sometimes wonder whether my 20x20 vision has held back my career but that’s not the topic of today. In the future, designers will need to let go of control of the outcome. Now, this is a scary prospect for many designers. You know, our training, you know causes this focus on craft and quality of the outcome. It’s what we value and how we measure success. But we could have a much larger impact on society if we were to start thinking about our role in a different way. We’re designers, we’re not angles, we’re not devils either. We’re people who are blessed with the ability to think out of both sides of our brains and you can thanks genetics for that or a higher power, if that’s your belief. But at the end of the day as JFK said, “To whom much is given, much is required” and what is required in the future is that we go open source. We must not keep our methods and our practices to ourselves. We must invite others in and teach them to solve their own problems and explore opportunities. We must teach people to fish and not assume that we have to fish for them. We have to let go of the notion of the designers as the producer of fine things and adopt a new vision of the designers as the facilitator of people solving problems, big and small. And the others in this future won’t just be businesses. They maybe school children or members of a Church congregation or patients in hospital or workers at a government agency. Most importantly in the future, there will no longer simply be the consumer. That term speaks to an antiquated, un-empowered of people. Sometimes, design acts as though people are in service of design or worse, enslaved by technology.
Now, the future, people won’t just consume. They will produce and they’ll design too. I believe in order to take full advantage of the power and potential of design and technology to improve people’s lives, you have to be an optimist and you have to believe that man is inherently good. You have to believe that each individual deserves the right to speak his or her mind, have his or her story told and not be encumbered by bureaucracy or power structures. If you don’t believe that then you’re going to have a really hard time in the future. When I look at how people are banging their heads -- we’re collectively banging our heads against the wall on issues related to crisis in healthcare and education and poverty, I’m reminded of Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity. It’s doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome. We must not do things the same way in the future. In the future, we must put people at the center of the process and no just let them validated or -- we really need to invite them in to co-design with us, to teach them our methods and crafts so that they can in turn bring design thinking and tools to their own challenges and opportunities and feel a deep sense of investment and ownership and what solutions emerged. We must design open systems that harness the ingenuity of many people. We have to break down barriers of access to tools of self-expression and communication and we must be service minded and solve the problems at the bottom of the pyramid to help lift people up and we must re-imagine ourselves in our role as designer, a relationship to our work and the people we work in service of. Because in the future, it won’t be about technology and it won’t be about designers. It will be about people and giving people the tools and in doing so, giving them a voice. Thank you.

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