Global Twitter Conversation Proves Designers Don't Get It
Earlier this week, our very own Alissa Walker wrote about One Day for Design, a global discussion about design that took place on Wednesday on Twitter. Presented by the AIGA, the online event was meant to open up a dialogue between designers and the general public, and allow creative folks to discuss current issues in design, with the ultimate goal of understanding how design could shape the future of the world.
The whole thing was pretty pointless.
Part of the problem is the AIGA. Founded in 1914, the AIGA was, in its early days, the preeminent design advocacy group in America. It supported creative professionals—graphic designers, illustrators, art directors—so they could build solid careers in a fast-moving and increasingly crowded field. But in recent years, the benefits of membership—information about events and networking opportunities—have seemed less valuable, especially given the rising dues and myriad other ways designers can connect online.
The identity problem is reflected in its mission statement:
AIGA, the professional association for design, is the premier place for design—to discover it, discuss it, understand it, appreciate it, be inspired by it.
The difficulty with that language is that it doesn't provide a definition of design. The AIGA just wants to promote design, whatever it is. To be fair, it isn't easy to define design right now—it's an expanding pool of ideas and practices that includes architecture, industrial design, graphic design, social design, design thinking. But an association meant to advance the field should have a better idea of what the field is than the AIGA does.
The essence of design is, for most practitioners, problem solving. There have been different interpretations of basic premise, from Bucky Fuller to Bruce Mau, from Massimo Vignelli to Ed Fella, and everyone in between. But at its root, for most, it's a way of working through complex issues and conceptualizing broadly applicable solutions. At its best, design improves our lives without us even noticing.
But One Day for Design was hardly a triumph of problem-solving or modesty. During the event my feed of tweets was dominated by self-congratulating blurbs, unintelligible buzzwords, and cynical sniping. Try as hard as they might, the moderators couldn't contain the endless barrage of tired design quotes, unabashed arrogance, and unfunny jokes. The moderators were esteemed members of the design community, chosen by the AIGA, and I can only speculate about what a chore it must have been for them to read the replies to their thoughtful questions.
Why were so many of the voices that spoke on behalf of design during this event either overly bitter or overly self-serious? I love being a designer. I love talking about design's role in distilling the world's complexities and making them more transparent. And I love collaborating with people from other fields to work towards common goals.
Being cynical is too easy and being overly serious is not fun, so designers: Why not just be approachable and engaged with the world outside of design? And how about when we talk about the subject, we define it and elevate it rather than falling back on jargon and bad jokes?