How do you begin to know the leading debates and trends in design? You read -- a lot. When the co-chairs were trying to determining the theme for the Design Research Conference, we didn't want to leave any stone unturned.
Don Norman, Tim Brown, and Bruce Nussbaum may come up in your list of design thought leaders. But, this list is also colored by your specialty (Fast Company did it); graphic designers have their own list, just as different as those lists from architects, design research or business. Design, we thought, integrates all of these fields, so each of us dove in following our passions: art, engineering, business and graphic design.
As we read, we tried to place ID’s view of design into this bigger picture, which we were just learning to do as first-years.
We made some conjectures and iterated our thinking, but there was no real answer. These discussion mimicked those in the broader design sphere: what is design anyway? It seemed so full of contradictions: Embrace complexity and make it simpler. Trust our guts and be systemic. Avoid technological determinism and also drive technological innovation and adoption.
The Compelling Contradictions: Ego & Empathy. Technology & Humanity.
For this year’s conference, we chose to focus on the most compelling contradictions that impact all designers: ego, empathy, technology, and humanity.
As innovators (and design students), we need to stand at the front of the room and recommend wholly new innovations; we must be confident that we have the answer. Otherwise, your ideas will never get out of the conference room.
This is in stark contrast to the empathetic designer who encourages us to let our guard down, and enters our lives, homes and thoughts. These designers must be open and nonjudgmental, hearing our stories and gaining insights as they earn our trust.
Technology and humanity have been fighting each other ever since the two coexisted. Humans haven’t always been supportive of the latest technology, and it’s no surprise to hear about early electricity fears and the response to Google Glass.
The Power of Reflection
If designers, the conference co-chairs reasoned, aren’t aware of these choices and the subsequent balancing act, how do we know we’re making the right choices? It takes a bit of reflection to understand ourselves better and we reasoned the conference would be an ideal place for this. We sought out designers, engineers, academics and entrepreneurs who had already started these reflections and we’re encouraging them to explore these tensions or polarities more deeply at the DRC.
I’m looking forward to when the conference planning is complete and I can enjoy the conference reflections and rest. I hope to meet you there and when it’s all over, I’m especially excited to get back to my ever-lengthening reading list.