“In this age of mass production when everything must be planned and designed, design has become the most powerful tool with which man shapes his tools and environments (and, by extension, society and himself). This demands high social and moral responsibility from the designer.”
Victor Papanek (p. ix, Papanek, 1985)
The idea around responsible design was ignited when I was in a Bible study about love and it’s responsibilities. At the same time, I had been working on a responsive design piece for the web and I thought to myself, to design responsively well, we need to be responsible designers first. And just like love, design should not merely be responsive (firefighting approach), it should be pro-active, given to ‘take care of’ concerned about others, finding out real problems and trying to solve them.
I read Victor Papanek’s book, Design for the Real World (highly recommended) a few weeks later and the ideas began to really gell.
Responsible design takes into account a number of things; Culture, Accessibility, Sustainability, Empathy, Ethics. Responsible design is holistic, accountable, creative, caring, visionary, quality conscious and forward thinking.
The relationship with User Experience
I read an article recently that attempted to split UX and design, it drew me back to Papanek’s words that we are all designers, but how we design is another story, UX is how I design, for example. We are all teachers in the same vein, whether we teach professionally or teach using a particular method, is something different.
A friend of mine had a stint teaching maths to children at a secondary school in Lagos. Many of the children appeared to be dull and didn’t seem able to grasp what he was teaching. My friend had been using the prescribed textbooks and examples, to describe percentages, additions, distance etc. and he got frustrated. The children were frustrated as well and they turned to buying and selling of items in class.
One day, it hit him, he describes it as an epiphany. He quickly changed all the textbook examples into things the children could relate to and see in their neighbourhood and the class began to liven. The children were happy and learning, he was happy and wondered how blind he had been.
I told him it was the same with design, any attempt to leave behind the people we are designing for will end up in frustration, for one party at least.
Can you design without UX?, sure! But UX is a better, responsible way to design, whether in visual, technical or development.
UX is a combination of skills that derive from the responsibilities we have as designers.
If we care, have empathy for people, we will involve them in our design process through co-creation, user research, usability studies etc. These skills must be applied to take an idea from pure fiction safely into the hands of users.
If you are in the business of design, you need to decide which way you fall, take up the responsibility and consider the above, build the necessary skills, it’s a daily struggle! Don’t think you will be able to master all skills, so better to ‘know thy self’.
Next Post: The Responsible Designer & Culture
I gave a little speech about Responsible Design and Culture at work, which went down quite well. Culture falls into 3 categories, Culture Within, Culture Without, Culture Transpositions (from/to)
Culture Within is about the character, values and experiences that are allowed to flourish or wither within a design team/org. It is foundational to how one designs.
The next post on Responsible design will explore ‘The Responsible Designer’, how the designer contributes to culture within, and it’s effects on the designer/designer’s work in turn.
For now, stay bright.
Essays on Responsible Design