Design-friendly, Creation-friendly, Innovation-friendly

Economic and industrial models are crumbling. Economists everywhere seem incapable of predicting or solving problems facing Western countries. The reality is that universities of economics, recently recognized by the Shanghai ranking for the quality of their research, have not turned out the “finders”, who alongside researchers, are expected to provide solutions to calm the stormy seas that lie ahead.

Moreover, the exact and objective science that is technology, which once put its trust in humanity-based progress, has gone so far in its quest for the “knowledge of things” that it has managed to spread panic by objectifying progress and the end of the world. GMOs, genetic decoding, atoms, etc. so many topics on which the all-knowing powers-that-be astound and threaten us with the best and worst of scenarios.

Globalization, internationalization, the intermingling of populations and cultures challenge our cultural references of value and meaning. Morals take a backseat to the law as our notions of right and wrong, freedom, justice, respect of nature, others and oursleves, manners, etc. are thrown out of whack as a result of different cultural approaches. These shifting contexts are particularly favorable to design.

In the face of fear conjured up by tomorrow, there is a yearning for values, meaning, and on a greater level, hope, a future. It is as if it were necessary to find spirituality, including objects found in the day-to-day. The popularity of interior decorating bears witness to this semi-“pantheistic” approach, whose credo feasts on wanting to find meaning even in the most trivial of objects such as a “teaspoon.”

In the same way, because we feel an overwhelming sense of standardization resulting from globalization, we prod ourselves to uncover a sense of identity. With an attachment to products and brands, the concept of “Designed by” will take the place of “Made in.” “Designed by” will be the new label in identity and quality.

Globalization or internationalization of production and markets also forces us to take a second look at some economic paradigms. Companies will be expected to cast a very different eye on current practices, and adapt their structure and organization accordingly to suit industrial mobility. Not the kind that involves things like outsourcing to Asian countries but that which involves adapting to change. Companies, like mankind, will have no other choice but to learn how to change professions, and develop their ability to “do something else” with “what they already know how to do.” Contrary to the past, experience or tenure is no longer the ultimate criterion for ensuring survival of the corporate fittest, but the mob-ability or capacity to move, be transferred, or even change jobs, all the while maintaining skill sets and expertise. It is no longer about “doing what one knows how to do better,” but if need be, “doing something else with what one already knows how to do,” and transforming it into a value. The ability to innovate will become an indispensable “goodwill” value.

The concept of renewal, which has proven victorious over the development of the market economy, will also have to revisit its foundations. Product substitution backed consumption and the growth of our economies to the point that “programmed obsolescence” was, in the past, a virtuous concept. Designers and engineers will have to devise products that last, and whose life cycle will be closely monitored due to a heightened, environmentally-driven conscience. Product sustainability will take precedence over recycling and reuse initiatives. The consumption revival, a subject near and dear to some politicians, may even conjure up suspicion. The emergence of the “non-obsolescent product” is in the works.

Market saturation resulting from the non-renewal of certain products, will strengthen companies’ obligations to be in mobile mode.

With flexible, adaptable and more local structures at their fingertips, their ability to be and do will prove even easier. Mobility may very well be a means of tackling a local form of re-industrialization, which may entice and prove beneficial to overseas territories and Western economies.

Lastly, the rise of new technologies has fostered awareness on the capacity to interact in product and service design. Contribution is replacing consumption. The consumer will play an increasingly visible role in the design of products. If, thus far, marketing has governed market economics, then contribution management is bound to make its way back to design and the shared design process.

Christian Guellerin has been president of Cumulus, the International Association of Universities and Schools of Design, Art and Media since 2007. Under his leadership the organization grew from 80 to 178 establishments in 44 countries In 2008 ; today they’re expanding to China and India. He is also the executive director of the Ecole de design Nantes Atlantique, which trains professionals to create and innovate for socio-economic development, with an interface between technology, economics, and the sciences. He writes frequenly on design and pedagogy and teaches in several schools and universities in France and abroad.

Visit Christian’s blog for more information, and see some of his other posts on Shifting Design Education.

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