Designing the future is tricky

When talking to other designers or listening to designers speak at conferences, I often feel uncomfortable when I hear them talk about the role of design solutions being “the vision of the future”. It sometimes comes across that solving many of society’s problems is really just a matter of creating a better and more contemporarily designed world.

SEATTLE_magThis thought kept on occurring to me during a recent trip to Seattle. Home of the 1962 World’s Fair, the theme for the fair was “Designing the 21st Century city”. A core idea running through the fair exhibits and programming was that we could design solutions to many of society’s ills through modern planning, architecture and graphic based programs.

In order to symbolize this brave new world, along with the Space Needle, the citizens of Seattle also voted to build themselves a monorail to connect downtown with the fairgrounds – a distance of just one mile. Without getting into a debate on the pros and cons of monorails and the references to an infamous Simpsons episode on the topic, what struck me the most was that when trying to design the future we often end up locking people into a vision from a previous generation. Ironically, nothing ends up saying “our city is stuck in the 20th century” more monorail meant to be a showcase on how we would be getting around in 2014.

monorailI’ve always considered a well-designed solution as one that is timeless – one that is appropriate for today but can also be easily adapted and updated for future needs. So given this thought, design professionals we need to start focusing on systems rather than static artifacts. Platforms that allow for continuous adaptation and innovations versus being locked into fixed programs or products


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