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Are Designers The Enemy Of Design?-- The Reaction.

Posted by: Bruce Nussbaum on March 20, 2007

Heavy reaction to my Parson’s speech. Check out David Armano’s visualization of key points about the democratization of design vs. design egotism. I wrote that “people want to be in the design sandbox so you have to figure out a way to get them in and design with them.”

This statement goes way behind “design.” Corporations have to bring consumers deep inside the walls of of the business process to participate in the development and design of new products, services and experiences. They have to curate conversations with their customers and really listen and learn from them.

But having provoked the design community with criticism, let me now say this: the salvation of the world may lie largely in the hands of designers. This is a sweeping comment but true. Continuum’s work developing the Swiffer for P&G has probably saved billions of gallons of sweet water from being used to wash floors. It has prevented enormous amounts of detergent from being flushed into our rivers and oceans. And it shows, as Gianfranco Zaccai, founder of Continuum, says in his column on the Innovation & Design site, that the design method can develop products that are both profitable and sustainable. And yes, I think the Swiffer fits into the “sustainable” category because it saves so much water and curbs so much pollution. Let’s begin to challenge our assumptions of what it means to be green.

This is but one of thousands of examples of how design can promote a sustainable economy that grows, employs people, generates profits, pays taxes and gives us a better life experience.

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Reader Comments

andrew daniel

March 20, 2007 05:27 PM

Wow, big headline, lot's of blabbering with no real point, except a plug for your new magazine. Kind of disappointing. I was really hoping to find out why I suck.

Douglass Turner

March 20, 2007 09:08 PM

One of the fundamental challenges here is that fact you cast the net "designer" so wide that it loses most of it's requisite focus.

Often after reading one of your posts I'm left scratching my head wondering "hang on, exactly what category of design is Bruce referring to?"

By maintaining a 30,000 foot level any difference between the cultures of fashion and auto and architecture is completely lost. Your brush strokes are impossibly broad to actually mean very much.


Eric Benson

March 21, 2007 05:17 PM


I think you are exactly right with your speech at Parsons in NYC. I'm a designer myself (degree in Industrial and Graphic) and now teach Graphic Design at a research university. Designers do great harm to the planet, typically without really knowing about it. We contribute 32% of the junk (packaging waste) to our muncipal landfills, cut down billions of trees to design junk mail and catalogs, chose plastics for our products that never biodegrate and leech toxins into our water supply when left littered across our landsace... the list goes on.

As much as designers are to blame, you must also look at business and marketing. Typically designers are "service oriented". We are asked to take on a project then complete it. We aren't usually invovled in higher level decision making. This needs to change. However this doesn't excuse designers not knowing about eco-friendly options. (Nor does it business execs). Money is the bottom line for businesses, but so is operation longevity. If we don't change our practices to be more sustainable, then the bottom line is catastrophic.

My site helps educate the graphic designer on how to be more sustainable and what that really means. I believe the key is education. If designers know they can choose better options and help educate others. Same goes for business.. thanks...

Charles Burnette

March 22, 2007 08:47 PM

Bruce, Thanks! High time people began to think of themselves as designers with all that implies. However, you might be interested in what I learned when I set out a few years ago to launch an internet start-up called to support an online "conversation" between consumers, designers and manufacturers to idevelop and produce products based on ideas flowing from consumers. The problems that led to my decision to abandon this effort were not technical (WebEx had solved many of the communication issues) or even legal (the site would assess intellectual property rights on the fly) it was structural. The consumers needed to be tutored in the issues , professional designer's wanted guaranteed payment for services , and manufacturers had no "department" or contact point through which to engage in such "innovative" dialogue even though ways to aggregate economic interest in a proposal and to "premarket" the product were built into the site. The nearest thing at the time was a consortium of the big manufacturer's of corporate clothing that created a web service allowing their customers to design and place images (mainly logos and names) on jackets, caps etc. that were already designed. Sites to customize shoes were also focused on options the manufacturer offered. Ikea, Herman miller and others also had layout tools. More open online designing involving strangers will require much more than social networking or personal projections like YouTube but it is coming! and you have helped it along with your article.

Robin Galguera

March 28, 2007 09:45 PM


I was directed to your article from While I found some of your arguments provocative and interesting, I was quite distracted by the number of typos and grammar glitches in your piece. I see from Business Week's domestic masthead that there is a large staff of copy editors and proofreaders. You need one of them to read through your posts. Simple spelling errors such as "trailor" vs. "trailer"make it difficult for this reader to take your work seriously. Spell check is one of the interesting products of word processing design, but it seems as though you're not putting it to good use. The lower-tech red pen also works unbelievably well to assist writers with grammatical and spelling correctness. I realize it's a blog and therefore informal, but your errors make you look kinda dumb.

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Want to stop talking about innovation and learn how to make it work for you? Bruce Nussbaum takes you deep into the latest thinking about innovation and design with daily scoops, provocative perspectives and case studies. Nussbaum is at the center of a global conversation on the growing discipline of innovation and the deepening field of design thinking. Read him to discover what social networking works—and what doesn’t. Discover where service innovation is going and how experience design is shaping up. Learn which schools are graduating the most creative talent and which consulting firms are the hottest. And get his take on what the smartest companies are doing in the U.S., Asia and Europe, far ahead of the pack.

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