The time may not be very remote…

by New Idiom


HG Wells

image courtesy: Culver pictures

More than a 100 years ago, HG Wells, the notable science fiction writer, said:

The time may not be very remote when it will be understood that for complete initiation as an efficient citizen of one of the new great complex world wide states that are now developing, it is as necessary to be able to compute, to think in averages and maxima and minima, as it is now to be able to read and write.

H.G. Wells, Mankind in the Making, 1904

I think it’s time for some edits, don’t you? :

The time is near when it will be understood that for complete initiation as an efficient effective citizen of one of the new great complex world wide states that are now developing, it is as necessary to be able to create and communicate, just as much as being able to compute, consume information, and write well to think in averages and maxima and minima, as it is now to be able to read and write. The key words there are effective, create and communicate.

We have seen the acquisition and incorporation of Hans Rosling’s Trendalyzer software into Google’s visualization API. Powerful organizations understand that the data alone is useless without context that makes it relevant to the human experience. In Advanced Design Planning, we’re taking a long hard look at the way consumers make purchasing and consumption decisions about energy. The EnergyGuide has been effective as a motivator to get consumers thinking about the energy efficiency of the products they use, but it clearly isn’t enough.

I sent a link about infographics that I received from a colleague at ID today to my brother, who responded “this is absolutely amazing… ps stop making me want to be a designer”. To which I responded (I hope, appropriately)… “You’re already a designer, you just don’t need the title”

Everyone has a message they want to convey. Even the wonkiest research scientists in the best labs across the world have messages they desperately need to share about subjects as relevant to everyone as global warming.

Lately, I’ve been inspired most by Paola Antonelli’s essay in a magazine I hold in high esteem. Here are a slew of notable takeaways from her piece:

“As science and technology accelerate the pace of society, design has become more and more integral to our ability to adapt to change.”

“Designers have the ability to grasp momentous changes in technology, science, and social mores and to convert them into objects and ideas that people can understand and use.”

“If design is to help enable us to live to the fullest while taking advantage of all the possibilities provided by contemporary science and technology, designers need to make both people and objects perfectly elastic.”

“The figure of the designer is changing from formgiver to fundamental interpreter of an extraordinarily dynamic reality; one increasingly informed by science and mediated by technology.”

“Because of their role as intermediaries between research and production, designers often act as the main interpreters in interdisciplinary teams, called upon not only to conceive objects, but also to devise scenarios and strategies…. will be in a unique position to become the repositories of contemporary culture’s need for analysis and synthesis, society’s new pragmatic intellectuals.”


It’s quite a responsibility for a discipline to have, isn’t it? What gives me hope is that designers play the role of interpreters and intermediaries— functions in which humility, passion and curiosity are of the utmost importance. One can only hope that the design profession will use its faculties to bring about positive social change and create meaning for the people that need it the most.