Is a larger cultural value hidden in design?

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~ the original version of this post was first published on the Whipsaw Medium channel.

After 3 years of working as Strategic Communications Manager in the design sector, I keep brewing on the often-overlooked cultural impact of intelligent industrial design …

In a society that thrives on the continuous reinvention of people, businesses and products, innovation is the name of the game.  But what makes innovation part of the successful change we are all after? Anthropologist and cultural commentator Grant McCracken has a few suggestions.  He refers to French historian Fernand Braudel who analyzed a connection between successful societies and their traditions (fashion was used as the main indicator). He noticed that the most productive ones are those societies who are not afraid to break with tradition but rather embrace and successfully manage … change.

Designers have a key opportunity here to foster that adaptation to change. Let’s consider the abundance of product choices on real and virtual store shelves for a moment. The materialistic orientation of our Western culture is often under attack as superficial and wasteful.  Yet what if this obsession with products not only drives our economy but also helps successfully manage the inevitable flow of change as well?

Most designers are focused on designing and developing products that improve the lives of the end-user and contribute to society in a meaningful way. McCracken suggests that designers are the gatekeepers to help corporations gain access to social and cultural change. Could designers have an added responsibility here, beyond functional—and aesthetically—pleasing design …?

Given the statements above, would it be safe to claim that certain innovative ideas, inspirations, and creations to help our society grow could potentially best be realized through appropriate, yet alluring products, successfully brought to market and effectively branded for easy access? Would it be safe to suggest that the brilliant technological (and other) improvements that are the core business of corporations big and small, will leverage their best potential for maximum impact through, you guessed it, excellent product design?  Would it be safe to say that designers are not just in the commercial business but active components in the cultural realm as well?  I can definitely safely state that my current employer, Whipsaw, firmly believes in ground-breaking technology, functional solutions, unique design, collaboration, and … progress.

Art and artists are often looked upon as the disrupted forces that more often than not alert society of the need for change. Change however can be painful, and the unknown path ahead, uncomfortable.  What if designers could safely guide us along parts of that path, and make us more agreeable to do things differently, through easy access to the fruits of their creative labor?  Would it be a win-win situation for corporations, designers, individuals and society as a whole alike?

So next time you stand eye to eye with that intriguing product and its seductive design that promises to make your life easier, more fulfilling and more pleasantly all-around.  Take an intelligent chance, if your choice makes sense you might just be helping society grow and move forward …

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