I have seen the future. It is a student. It is a teacher. It is in its 20s, or maybe 50s. It is focused on using design as a tool to heal society’s ills.
I saw the future at the University of Minnesota College of Design. I was invited, along with my colleague Richard Neil, to be part of Public Interest Design Week, and run a workshop on digital storytelling. The weeklong event is the brainchild of John Cary.
Design – of buildings, objects, and public spaces – forms a lot about how we feel about the world. Work in a beautiful building and you feel good. (Toil in a damp basement, not so good.) Meet a friend in a public space that’s inviting – good experience. (Stumble into a decaying neighborhood, not so good.) Design shapes the world, and now students, teachers, architects, activists and makers are shaping design. They want design to reach a broad spectrum of people who will benefit. They want design thinking to permeate not just architecture studios, but also corporate and academic culture. Design thinking is by its nature eclectic, because designers learn to work with lots of different kinds of people. They carry a vision forward through the idea stage, client approvals, community review, production and construction. Designers are artists. They are scientists. They are marketers.
Last week, in our digital storytelling workshop, I met a young architect who walked his neighborhood in Texas to find the perfect middle class client. I met two students who want to slow real estate development in a Minneapolis neighborhood. I met a filmmaker with a passion for sustainable fishing. I met a professor who is designing a think tank about design thinking. Before this paragraph turns into a Bob Dylan song (see the second stanza of A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall), I’ll sum it up by saying that access to good design is a basic human right, and design thinking is the vehicle that we will all drive into the future.
I wrote a few paragraphs back that designers are also marketers. In the online age (the one we live in now) we all have access to a huge array of communication channels. We are broadcasting live all the time, whether we want to or not. (Well, maybe not if you live in a bunker. Things are probably pretty quiet for you in that case.) Because there is so much media flying around electronically it becomes critically important to learn how to market, sell, and communicate if you want your creative work to be noticed and placed into action. Daniel Pink’s new book, To Sell is Human, describes this.
The role of media people like myself is to help designers communicate their ideas to the rest of the world. Sure, they’re artists and scientists, but learning to be free-agent marketers is the important next step to take.