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Are Designers The Enemy Of Design?

Posted by: Bruce Nussbaum on March 18, 2007

Here’s the speech I gave at Parson’s on Thursday that deals with the backlash against design. I’ve edited it just a bit. It’s designed to provoke design management students and show how I’ve redesigned my job at Business Week from the Voice Of Authority to the Curator of the Conversation on Innovation. We all live life in beta now.

Are Designers The Enemy of Design?

In the name of provocation, let me start by saying that DESIGNERS SUCK. I’m sorry. It’s true. DESIGNERS SUCK. There’s a big backlash against design going on today and it’s because designers suck.

So let me tell you why. Designers suck because they are arrogant. The blogs and websites are full of designers shouting how awful it is that now, thanks to Macs, Web 2.0, even YouTube, EVERYONE is a designer. Core 77 recently ran an article on this backlash and so did we on our Innovation & Design site. Designers are saying that Design is everywhere, done by everyone. So Design is debased, eroded, insulted. The subtext, of course, is that Real design can only be done by great star designers.

This is simply not true. Design Democracy is the wave of the future. Exceptional design may only be done by great star designers. But the design of our music experiences, the design of our MySpace pages, the design of our blogs, the design of our clothes, the design of our online community chats, the design of our Class of ’95 brochures, the design of our screens, the design of the designs on our bodies—We are all designing more of our lives. And with more and more tools, we, the masses, want to design anything that touches us on the journey, the big journey through life. People want to participate in the design of their lives. They insist on being part of the conversation about their lives.

So Lesson One here is that the process of design, the management of the design process, is changing radically. Egos and silos are coming down, participation is expanding, tools are widespread and everyone wants to play. People want to be in the design sandbox so you have to figure out how to get them in and do design with them. This is a huge challenge.

Let’s talk about the arrogance of architects. When I began covering architecture a decade ago for Business Week, we launched an annual contest with Architectural Record. When we were about to publish pictures of the first winners, I looked at all the fancy architecture magazines. None had any pictures of people inside buildings. The buildings were all devoid of people. And most still are. We put people inside the spaces they inhabit. We inserted people into the conversation of their lives. Now, smart architects engage the masses in their designs. They hire firms who do social geography, showing how people really interact in organizations, not what their titles suggest. Informed with this information, they design spaces.

So one Big Design Management Challenge is how do you switch gears from designing for to designing with? Maybe the object of design is not a finished product but a set of tools that allow people to design their experiences for themselves. Think iPod and iTunes. Think TiVo. Starbucks. Fortunately, design has tremendous tools. In fact, design has evolved from a simple practice to a powerful methodology of Design Thinking that, I believe, can transform society. By that I mean Design, with a capital D, can move beyond fashion, graphics, products, services into education, transportation, economics and politics. Design can become powerful enough to be an approach to life, a philosophy of life. But it can do so only when Design by Ego ends and Design by Conversation begins. More on that later.

Back to the backlash against design. Designers suck because they are also IGNORANT, especially about sustainability. The rap against designers is that they design CRAP that hurts the planet. That’s the argument. Let’s take your favorite toy, designed by one of today’s design gods, Jonathan Ive and his team at Apple—the iPod. Apple does fantastic things with materials. Amazing things. And it has recycling programs for its products. But what it doesn’t do is prioritize cradle-to-cradle design. It doesn’t design a long-cycle product that you can open and upgrade over time. It doesn’t design a process that encourages the reuse materials again and again. It doesn’t demand sustainability.

So ask yourselves if you demand sustainability in your laptops, your iPods, cell phones, cars, or houses. There are mountains of computers and iPods and cell phones and stuff—your old stuff—building up in India and Chinas, leaking toxic chemicals. Greenpeace has launched a Green My Apple campaign. Europe tipped green in the 90s. The U.S. tipped green just last year.

I actually think that of all the designers in the US design professions, architects are the greenest. Architects are the leaders in terms of sustainability. Building according to LEED specs is the norm for big corporations. Bank of America is putting up an incredibly green building near Bryant Park. One wonderful green trick— it uses cheap electricity at night to make ice in the basement to cool the skyscraper in the morning. Bring back the ice box.

The broad new paradigm for design—the paradigm you will all work within for the rest of your lives—is sustainability. When you have venture capitalists at the latest TED conference in Monterrey crying, literally crying onstage, about the planet, sustainability is hot, hot, hot. So the iPod is cool but…..

Challenge Your Assumptions. Think about the mink coat. It is beyond cool. It’s sustainable. You feed those little rat-y things with garbage that you throw out or food you grow, you create something that is comfortable, beautiful and gives you warmth for your entire life, you pass it along to another generation or recycle it or simply let it disintegrate. It’s organic, after all.

All you folks in fashion, try and rethink materials. Fashion is one of the most creative of the design fields—obviously. But what does it mean to design fashion within a sustainable context. I think it means changing materials. How can you fashion a fashion process, that focuses on bringing a new line out twice a year, that allows materials to be reused again and again in different ways? Or should designers try and design clothes that last far longer than one season or two? And why are organic materials, bamboo and cotton, so expensive? And how do you price for all of this. Hard questions.

Let me stop and make a suggestion. Skip your next trip to Milan or Miami and head, instead, for the reservation. Visit the Navajo and Hopi, the Pueblo Indians, the Souix and the Cheyenne. These folks lived a sustainable lifestyle long before it became both fashionable and necessary. There’s a lot left to their eco-culture. Learn from them—their contemporary artists in weaving, pottery, painting and jewelry are among the most innovative and creative in the world.

Take the Navajo Hogan, a simple six-sided building. Hogans sit lightly on the land—no 10,000 or 20,000 square foot McMansions for the Navajo. Hogan are easy to assemble, use little energy to keep people warm, and have strong spiritual meaning to the families who inhabit them. Today’s modern hogans are trailors and they are all over the rez. Now think about trailors. They, too, sit lightly on the land, are kind of prefab, and use little energy. In a world focused on sustainability, is the trailor worse than a cool building designed by Rem Koolhass or Frank Gehry?

We need to live the lives we design. Take Al Gore, one of my heroes. Does a great movie on global warming but does he walk the talk with a 20-room mansion and private jets? What is his real carbon footprint? Yes, he buys all kinds of carbon offsets, you know pay peasants in the Amazon to grow trees. But is that living a sustainable life. Can you buy your way to a carbon-free life there if you are rich? Both Davos and the Oscars were full of rich folks flying in on private jets leaving a big fat carbon footprint. Yet both conferences were allegedly CARBON-FREE. What’s up with that?

OK, enough. Now that I’ve insulted designers, allow me to insult myself. In the 90’s, I was the editorial page editor of Business Week. I was the VOICE OF AUTHORITY. Truly, they had an ad campaign revolving around the voice of authority. I did design as a journalistic afterthought, at nights or the weekend. I wrote about design being a force within the business culture. I had a small following.

That changed a few years back. The commoditization of manufacturing and knowledge and its outsourcing to Asia, left US companies unable to compete to make profits. When you can’t compete on the basis of cost or quality, you have a problem. So the business community embraced the notion of innovation. Driving revenue and profits by turning out a continuous series of new things, be they products or services or even experiences.

Wowie. But how do people who’ve spent a lifetime using their left-brain, suddenly shift to using both their left and their right? How do people used to deconstructing old problems into their parts and squeezing answers out of each of them then learn to see problems with fresh eyes and integrate parts of many solutions into one new one. Enter design and design thinking. Over the past decade, design has evolved to become an articulated, formalized method of solving problems that can be widely used in business—and in civil society. Design’s focus on observing consumer/patient/student—human behavior, it’s emphasis on iteration and speed, its ability to construct, not destruct, its search for new options and opportunities, its ability to connect to powerful emotions, its optimism, made converts out of tough CEOs. AG Lafely at P&G, Immelt at GE and many others embraced design. Now Mayor Daley of Chicago and Mayor Livingstone of London are embracing it.

And so am I. I dropped the edit page and launched the Innovation & Design site online two years ago. It’s a huge success. We open-source it and have many partners, including Core77, Dwell, ID magazine and Metropolis. We have the top thinkers and practitioners of design to write columns for us. I blog. We have built a global community around the ongoing conversation of design and innovation (20% of our traffic is from outside the US). And then we did something weird, we launched a new magazine off the website, because we found that many senior managers don’t go online. Surprise. The new magazine is IN, Inside Innovation.

Today, I kind of coach a team of about 8 people, 6 women in their early 30’s, one guy in his thirties, and a women in her twenties (she’s Canadian and a generation ahead of the 30-something sisters in technology). Our process is totally different from the hierarchical way of writing and editing we had just a few years ago. We all write for both platforms—online and print, and do a little TV on the side. Our job today as journalists is to curate conversations among groups within our audience, with Jessi Hempel doing social networking and philanthropy, Reena Jana doing fashion and gaming culture, Matt Vella doing cars and green technology, Aili McConon doing sustainability and motion technology such as wii. We design stories with our audience. As John Battelle said recently, the conversation now is the content. It’s not about the finished story but about the ongoing story. It’s the conversation. And since most conversations don’t have a conclusion, they are ongoing. We live a life in beta.

A final point on language: Innovation and Design. Business men and women don’t like the term “design.” I think they think it implies drapes or dresses. Even top CEOs who embrace design don’t want to call it that. They want to call it “Innovation.” That has a manly right to it. It’s strong, techie. These folks are perfectly willing to use the word “vision,” whatever the heck “vision” is. They like “Imagination,” whatever the heck that is. But they don’t like “design.” Go figure.

I solve this problem by calling it all a banana. Innovation, design, eco-imagination, just call it whatever they want to call it and do your design thing. Because your design thing is a glorious thing that has the potential of changing our lives in a myriad of ways in a myriad of places.

Reader Comments

Ben Arent

March 18, 2007 6:18 PM

Interesting article Bruce, Although I understand that this is an article for design management I still feel that everything is a high level of design thinking. As an undergraduate I take from this article that now everyone has the tools 'to design' there is still a need for a narrative for the use of tools, a contunined conversation between user and service interfaced by the 'tools'. Yet... This is all very good but as I work on the blunt end of design having to make something real, I still stumble on trying to create a 'Cradle to Cradle' design methodology. I would love to know your answer to why bamboo and Cotton is soo expensive, but i feel this is like my local Seattle PCC market where 'organic' means markup. Green Design is still a lifestyle choice, and this is something we need to change by making green a seamless added 'feature'

Chris Ritke

March 18, 2007 7:02 PM

Excellent article! I agree with so much you're saying here. My focus is social project collaboration and how that applies to the changing landscape you are describing here: "...People want to be in the design sandbox so you have to figure out how to get them in and do design with them....". Project management has been shifting to being more collaborative over the post few years, but still tends to be happening in walled gardens. It's time to bring the 'social' into project collaboration - this is not a challenge for software alone, but with everything becoming more distributed and international, we also have to re-think how software can help "switch gears from designing for to designing with". I just posted a video to where I talk about 'social project collaboration'. The long tail is growing - let's embrace it!

David Armano

March 19, 2007 1:55 AM

Nice work Bruce. You've managed to insult designers, Al Gore fans, Animal rights activists and traditional top down managers in one breath. :)

And I think you've done us all a service. Fact is, there are a lot of folks out there who are comfortable with the way business (or design) has always been done and annoyed at the latest changes which affect their profession.

Ironically, innovation and even some of the best design has come from unlikely places. Firefox and YouTube are great examples of this. The "2.0" movement fueled by social media (using terms broadly here) are a great source of proof. Or maybe proof of life is more accurate.

Speaking of life, I really like this thought in particular "we live a life in beta". I think that's a profound thought. I also think that the people who approach their professions with this attitude will be the ones who succeed moving forward.

PS, I've added some of my visuals to some of the bits of this post here:

Well done. Keep it up.

Roger von Oech

March 19, 2007 5:14 AM


Nice piece of work. A lot of good thinking went into it — and it shows.

Several of your themes had special resonance for me. First off, thanks for your take on the "arrogance of designers." When I get around more than three of them at a time (especially on their location), I feel like I'm dealing with priests in a cult. No matter what your job is, I've found that a little humility goes a long way both as a communications strategy and as an idea-finding tool.

I also liked your comments about "getting outside your area." I like to ask designers where they explore for ideas. I'll say, "How many of you have been to a junk yard in the past six months?" Not many hands go up. Too bad. At a junk yard you can see all the stuff you wanted back in 2004 or 1996 — and what happened to it.

How about reading books? The other day, I asked a designer friend how many books he'd read in the past year, and he said, "Two. I'm too busy with all the electronic tools we use." What a shame! There's nothing like a good novel to make us aware of "story" and "narrative" both of which are important elements in the design process.

Again, thanks for the thoughtful piece. Best wishes.


March 19, 2007 6:28 AM

Hi, Ok.. I was the one who asked you about "controls" for design process thinking (at parsons), where the integrity of us as design managers (the facilitators of this process) and the process itself are not swallowed and abused by the business world... in the interests of the shareholders of course.

You told me that controls were not necessary, that this process was at free will, and finally that controls were not needed because "the business world is known to be highly ethical."

I HAVE to disagree with you. In fact, I am seeing it more and more.. take for example the process mentality applied to new construction .. allowing for unparalleled dimensions of true "sustainability" versus a business.. any business.. claiming "sustainability" for obvious PR reasons.

This is a poor example... but to say that business is ethical enough that us, as design managers, should feed them this valuable tool.. without control? We would lose value in ourselves on the job market.

I understand, we live life in beta. An ongoing process, never finished, never polished. In this aspect, most importantly, business cannot be held accountable for when they fail.. after trying to play with design thinking, without the proper controls.


March 19, 2007 1:19 PM

That's a great article. I'll forward it to my students at Bezalel Academy, Jerusalem. I'll use it in the next lesson of "creative direction", a new course in the academy where I'm trying to examine the change in the design profession and redefine it's new scope.
I truly believe in what has been written.

Bruce Nussbaum

March 19, 2007 1:24 PM

Thanks for the comment. As I recall at Parsons, I said that I didn't think business people in general were any less ethical than people in design. I realize there are many, many exceptions but my experience at Business Week has shown that to be true. And when it comes to sustainability, designers make as many compromises--if not more--than business people.

Stu Collett

March 19, 2007 1:49 PM

I think this is a great article.

I've been practicing user-centered design, as per the ways of Jesse James Garrett and many more, for a few years now.

All to often you find egotistical designers that design for themselves, not thinking about anyone or anything else. Usually it's just to get a shiny award of some sort.

Bruce, you've done yourself proud, fine sir.

Steve Russak

March 19, 2007 6:08 PM

Hi Bruce--

I enjoyed the presentation last week at Parsons. I guess this is where you step back and "watch/curate as the thread builds."

I applaud the topic and your desire to be provocative. It worked, and has inspired great dialogue. But I would alter the premise. It's not about "Design Democracy" but rather a Global Innovation Process. Global, that is, to imply the breaking down of borders and boundaries-- both corporate and disciplinary as well as cultural and geographical. It's just not centered around design. The sooner designers get that concept, the stronger our influence will be.

You said it best in your article:
"People want to be in the design sandbox so you have to figure out how to get them in and do design with them."

My advice to anyone in the sandbox is to fully understand what you bring to the party. Go ahead and be an arrogant designer as long as you can establish your credibility in the process. That position can be a double-edged sword. You'll get their attention by being brash and idealistic-- but can you keep their attention and actually lead with credibility vs. your subjective opinion? You can do that by demonstrating your understanding of the others in the sandbox with you. -- the people using the product or service, the marketeers, executives, vendors-- ALL the stakeholders. How democratic of me.

The most typical credibility-killing error I see designers make is to reveal how isolated or subjective their thinking and process can be. Design is a strength, not a panacea to the process. Get out there and educate yourself by whatever means-- additional education or real-life-- ideally, both.

I see the design process changing-- it is inclusive and no longer "owned." Anyone with valuable input can step in and influence. The key is to remain an influencer-- and you need to stay flexible and wide-eyed to maintain that role. We can be leaders-- just not with old tools.


March 19, 2007 6:22 PM

You paint with too wide a brush.

Many designers design in a variety of ways and for various markets and needs. Like journalists, doctors, and others, they also come in a range of personalitiies (although, it is generally true that many architects come across as arrogant but I also know some sweet ones too)

I think graphic designers are far more green than architects simply because it was an issue in graphic design starting in the 1980s and the emergence of recycled papers. I remember as a student in the late 1980s talking with an expert on the subject. She remarked that environmental concerns in architecture was just not an issue. Now, thankfully it is. Graphic design firms are also looking beyond paper. The AIGA (large national organization for graphic design professionals) includes carbon credits with attendee fees to its national conference to cover the carbon the conference releases as well as each attendees travel carbon emissions.


March 19, 2007 7:35 PM

Yes. Challenge your assumptions.

Capitalism has been the most destructive force to the environment in the history of this planet. Don't shift your blame on designers or any other profession because business men are the foot soldiers and puppet masters of destruction. You exploit every resource for "growth". Slavery, Child Labor, Environmental destruction, Genocide has always been fueled by the power of money.

The failure of the US business model is the notion of continued financial growth. In a world of neverending grasp at financial growth, people are laid-off en masse, children are sent to work the fields, and the amazon is slashed and burn.

Your use of Native Americans to make your case is ironic as it the best example of how opportunistic business men and money seekers (gold rush, spice trade, fur trade (minks!?), for example) and it's ignorance to ethics has committed genocide and destroyed a culture. Native Americans curated the environment just fine before the European invasion and it's onslaught.

"Why don't we start making a history worth being proud of and start fighting the real fu*king enemy?"

We can't change history, we can't fight capitalism, and maybe we don't need to. All the methods being used to make the world better these days like carbon offset tax, $100 laptop, selling clean water pumps to Africa, micro irigation products in India, etc. are still working in the confines of capitalism to make change happen. Which hopefully, will work out.

Capitalism even helped spread democracy, but even in our society it is not a TRUE democracy. We vote on who we think is the best. If they mess up, you vote for a new one. Joe Schmo can't walk into congress and make decisions about our economy. Just the same, I don't want Joe Schmo designing buildings or making my toaster that might catch fire.

I'll offer you a solution. Let's go beyond democratizing design, let's DEMOCRATIZE BUSINESS. You want TRUE democracty in design? Then LET ALL THE PEOPLE participate and make decisions in the board of directors meetings of Fortune 500 companies. Bring democracty to Business first. I don't know where you get the dillusional idea that designers actually have POWER, designers can suggest things but the real power, the decision makers, are higher up on the corporate food chain and in our world, they are business men.

Demoratize the power - democratize business.


March 19, 2007 10:37 PM

I’d like to put my designer’s hat on for a few seconds and thank you for all the credit. I have no problem with being called arrogant and egotistical. I’m not a designer that would ever complain about the development of user friendly applications developed by Mac, Web 2.0, YouTube or anything else that gets the average person into design thinking. Didn’t the designers create these environments for everyone in an effort to provoke creative thinking? Ownership of a hammer and saw doesn’t turn a do-it-yourselfer into a carpenter but it does get you making stuff.

Today’s successful designers must rely on up-to-date communication/feedback from the marketplace while following the strategic structure within the company or corporation supplying the paycheck. Design is only good if it fits consumers’ needs and is producible. Exceptions can be made with research and development. Unless I’m missing something, designers work under directives and guidelines and report to business leaders. Deadlines must be met and ROI is almost always a priority. A design-project without a deadline is just a hobby and won’t pay the bills very effectively.

It’s a good speech that will get a lot of people talking. Let’s not just throw stones at designers.

Oh yeh one last comment: Although I agree with the durability, biodegradability and comfort of animal fur for clothing, I don’t think everyone is ready to throw out their Gortex.

d mcmillan

March 20, 2007 11:47 AM

i am not arrogant, but why are the famous one mostly so?

as with the sustainability, i try, but it's a strugle witout sounding pathetic there are a few issues 1. what is best, there are many option and the greenest choice is far from clear! 2. the customer doesent really take it on yet, they still go for the disposable junk for a cheap price! 3. upermanagement are also not very really ready- cost price cost prce cost price!

last but not least i love apple design but hate the susainability issues, it gives us a bad name! i do not own any apple goods!!


March 20, 2007 12:45 PM


Jim Caruso

March 20, 2007 3:28 PM


My name is Jim Caruso, and I am a designer.
I appreciate your extremely objective, journalistic perspective and your work on the public discussion on the topic of design- both the noun and verb.

I could not agree more in the sentiments that we as a profession need to get alligned and join the management table in many businesses, not stand on it and have a tantrum.

I embrace the meaning of words, and whether the word design or innovation is used, the design profession is very suited to help business, and as you point out, governments to help solve real human issues. One opportunity I dont see taught at design schools is design leadership.

I am going to help with that, and get involved.

Keep up the good work,

Kind regards, Jim Caruso

Kathy Kebarle

March 20, 2007 7:25 PM

I am sure that Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" would have been a lot less persuasive without the graphics!

I try to think of my main client as the environment. I believe that the problem with capitalism is that it is too good at "improving" the standard of living and therefor ruining the planet. However, there are many things that can be done within in a capitalistic democracy, and we must enact laws that make the environment one of the main design considerations.

Also, I couldn't agree more on computer throwaway issues. I want to be able to upgrade my expensive powerbook.


March 20, 2007 7:56 PM

As a corporate communications manager, what I took away from Bruce's presentation is a renewed mission. It is the great challenge to have "empathy" that truly moved me. If we do not design and write with the goal of empathizing with our fellow creators, our clients and our audiences, it is all for naught.

empathy, Empathy, EMPATHY ... rules!


March 20, 2007 8:59 PM

The word "design" is so broad that you can't have a real conversation about it. *Everything* is designed, no matter how well or slick; everything has a design process.

No, "style" alone can't save a product--or the world. But "design" is a meaningless term. Stop ragging on "designers" and be specific about the practices you really want to change--"non-sustainable manufacturing processes", perhaps, or "non-biodegradable materials". "Renewable energy" would also be ok.

But telling people that "designers" are the enemy of "design" doesn't mean anything.

Alex Nisbett

March 20, 2007 10:56 PM

Awesome article.

If it rattles a few dusty old cages then great. Whilst a designer myself, I too believe that far too many of my brethren are more ego driven than user centred.

Many (but not all) areas of design have become very staid over the past couple of decades and rather like advertising, have not changed with either the time or the our client's audiences.

So it's about time we designers recognised that we must no longer design just for 'us' but for 'all of us', and that means giving everyone the keys to the design cupboard.

ps. I kind of saw something like this in the late 80's when desktop publishing came in. Graphic designers feared for their jobs. They needn't have but it was a wake-up call.

Mark Busse

March 21, 2007 1:38 AM

Bruce - I don't always agree with what you say (or do), but I love your style and think you are on to something here, though I must admit I was shocked at first. As I read on I realize how well timed your article is considering what I've been ranting about lately. Maybe I'm just another arrogant designer that sucks. Could be.


March 21, 2007 5:06 AM

Dear Bruce,

I took the liberty to rewrite this article of yours with a few nuances emphasizing that design is evolving towards a conversational process with the dimensions and role players of the situation.

Here's an excerpt:
"Designers are overrated because they are arrogant. The blogs and websites are full of scared designers shouting how awful it is that now, thanks to apple’s constant innovation, an increase in communication over Web 2.0, and even do it yourself videos on YouTube, EVERYONE can be designer. Core 77 recently ran an article on this backlash and so did Buisnessweek on our Innovation & Design site. Designers feel threatened by Design being everywhere, and worse, done better by anyone willing to sweat it. So design is becoming debated, un-heroic, un-sultan like. The present text of course, is that royal designers can only be outdone by great real life designers. "

Bill Gates

March 21, 2007 8:10 AM

I don't think you know what you are talking about.


March 21, 2007 12:47 PM

Do you think Business Week would let just anyone design their website? What about their magazine? And would the magazine even exist if these same principles were applied to business? You can be mad at designers for doing their jobs better than people who make the myspace pages with pink moving backgrounds, but come on. Students don't need to listen to this. Let them pay for useful material in their educations.

John D. Long

March 21, 2007 1:35 PM

Much of what Bruce Nussbaum said is true and thought-provoking. However, I really do have to disagree with the following:

"Bank of America is putting up an incredibly green building near Bryant Park. One wonderful green trick-- it uses cheap electricity at night to make ice in the basement to cool the skyscraper in the morning. Bring back the ice box."

The same amount of energy and electricity (or more, due to the inefficiencies of conversion from one state to another and back again) is being used. This is not being green: it is being cheap. The total carbon footprint is still the same - or perhaps even greater because of these conversion losses.


March 21, 2007 2:58 PM

Ditto to John D Long. The Bank of America thing stood out to me as well. That electricity isn't cheaper because it requires less resources to create, it's only cheaper because there is less demand at night so the power companies can't mark it up as much. Confusing cost savings with carbon savings is what got us to where we are, I'd think a Gore fan would be painfully aware of that.

Bruce Nussbaum

March 21, 2007 9:26 PM

Lots of learning from comments today--and a bit of weirdness as well. My take on whether Bank of America is greenish or not because it uses cheap electricity at night to make ice that cools the tower in the day is this--the worst pollution from utilities comes from old plants that go online (old style usage here) at peak hours of demand. If you shift demand to the wee hours, then these old polluters will be turned on less. Ergo, less pollution and warming and a smaller carbon footprint. Does that make work Tony and John?

"Bill Gates" calls me names so I don't know what to say. He/She does have a pretty cool website. Check it out.

Dr.Darlie koshy

March 22, 2007 6:02 AM

In my speech Towards Design Democracy in Lekgotla,organised by SAABs institute inSept 2006(18th September which was also the first time this word coined by me was used to my best knowledge.Design Democracy has been detailed in this presentation which was also put on the website of for quite some time.ia m rather amused
that in your aticle you make reference to two concepts namely Design democracy as the need of the hour and words like innovation being appropriated to stand for design are both from presentations I have made to international audience in South Africa and New Delhi.I am not telling that this doen happen but would expect your response to put in perspective.You may also find reference to this in the Index magazine brought out in Denmark..
dr.darlie koshy,Director,NID,India

M. Fewkes

March 22, 2007 9:51 PM

This speach was full of tripe. It begins with overgeneralizations and spirals downward with dim-witted myopic comments.

First, arrogance and ignorance are equal opportunity offenders striking many in all walks of life. Aren't the "arrogant" designers partially responsible for the very tools (MySpace, chat rooms, brochures, etc.) you mention in your speech that allow you to express your personal style? Did you miss that? Let me guess; your going to tell your physician how to treat your illness and give your attorney advice on how to solve your legal problem next, right? Designers are trained and hired to consider all and pander. If their ideas did not take into account what the masses desire they would not be employed.

It gets worse from there as you speak to the masses of architects and designers who don't refer to social statistics, who are wholly ignorant of sustainability and conservation, and who are solely responsible for the CRAP that hurts the planet. You even mention outsourcing. Designers are only part of a process and often do not have the final say. The problem is far more complex than you make it out to be. This is a social problem with many variables. Many governments wink at the sin of the corporate use of toxic materials. They want big business around for MANY financial reasons. They sacrifice the welfare of their land, resources, even their people: whatever it takes to get a piece. Many businesses excuse themselves by saying their actions are not illegal, they help communities by providing jobs and taxes, and offer products at the lowest possible price, etc. They conspire with governments, influence laws and regulations, use toxic materials becuase they are cheap, easy, or they have an affiliate or vested interest in some infrastructure. Finally, people buy products knowing all of the above. Consumers have their excuses too: price, style, greed - damn the consequences. Don't say that they don't know about downcycling or the like. Hey, smoking causes cancer, too much meat raises your cholesterol, and atomic energy is not clean and cheap - most know and don't care. It's a people problem: people run governments, run businesses, and run lives. Neither you nor anyone else can point to a single group and blame them. It's equally impossible for any single discipline to stop the problem: they don't have power or influence to stop these cyclical issues. How you can possibly lay all of these issues on the shoulders of designers - that's arrogance and ignorance epitomized.

RitaSue Siegel

March 23, 2007 3:22 AM

If I heard correctly at the latest Historic Preservation District Conference, architects do not get LEED credits for adaptive reuse or preservation. Historic preservation is the ultimate in recycling and sustainability. Architects because they want to make big bucks, and who can blame them, want to do grounds up buildings. Unfortunately for many of us, in order for development to take place in the city, many buildings of historic, architectural, social and cultural interest and merit have to be destroyed. Why isn't architecture pushing for sustainability by not creating tons of debris?

Kevin Makice

March 23, 2007 5:03 PM

I hope you are going to be attending CHI 2007 in San Jose this year, because I believe there a voices that are getting heard on this matter of sustainable design. (In other words, not all DESIGNERS SUCK.)

In particular, take a peek at Eli Blevis' work, which includes a full paper at CHI that defines a framework for sustainable design. He is heavily influenced by, among others, Tony Frye and Design Philosophy Papers. Sustainable design is not a new idea; it just isn't one that has been listened to until very recently.

Respiro, the logo design guy

March 23, 2007 6:18 PM

This article can be called in different ways but nice. Mr. Nussbaum's opinion is understandable but I am one of those designers who struggle to be relevant even in the middle of the Web 2.0 madness...

Brian Brown

March 23, 2007 7:37 PM

Your an Idiot.


March 24, 2007 2:06 AM

The entire article seems quite self evident. Actually it's just boring. I feel like I've read it a hundred times over the last five years? What's interesting, I think, is that this ongoing flatulent conversation finds any traction out there. Imaginative people don't talk about how imaginative they are.

Dr.Robert Blaich

March 24, 2007 8:09 PM

I agree with much of what you have stated.

In my 55 year career as a designer and design director at Herman Miller and Phillips, I have worked with some of the great designers. These included Charles & Ray Eames, George Nelson, Alexander Girard, Vernor Panton, Poul Kaerjholm, Bill Stumpf, Don Chadwick and many others. While they were made STARS by the Design press they seldom considered themselves as Design Stars. They were "Problem Solvers" not "Super Stars".

At Philips we had a constellation of design stars but our policy was to recognize the teams not the individuals. It is obvious that most corporate design today is still done by these un- recognized designers.

Your statement that Business men and women do not like the term "design" and prefer "innovation".
Yet many companies use this term very freely calling the most mediocre designs innovative.

I like to refer to Charles Eames who denounced innovation as a strategic corporate goal. He insisted that quality was the essential goal to strive for. Inherent in his definition of quality was the layering of incremental refinements and improvements on a basic, good concept. Eames was a master of this approach which he referred to as "Good Goods". However the press lauded him as a great "Innovator".

carl garant

March 25, 2007 6:02 PM

Mr. Nussbaum:

I still find it fascinating how easily we categorize the design phenomenon into so many convenient labels. I find it intriguing that design continues to be clothed in an ever-changing wardrobe, yet remains a multi-faceted mystery that cajoles us into thinking we know what we’re talking about. If I didn’t know any better, I think the joke was on us.

Today we have design thinking, design management, interaction design, user design, universal design, transgenerational design, design intelligence, etc. and even intelligent design. Design penetrates our lives in so many ways, yet we still don’t understand it and for some strange reason avoid discussing the subject any further than seems profitable. This lack of definition gives license to label design as innovation rather than the process that generates lots of innovation. For this reason I commend you for goading us arrogant suckers into further discussion about the subject.

True, design has been slowly changing its meaning. Design is making it apparent that it will never again be the same in the mind of the beholder. And yes, people do want to participate in the design of their lives, however it’s not the kind of design that headlines Business Week, or is taught in business school.

Design is about life. Design is an internal and subjective process more than a philosophy; clue as to why it is so difficult to measure. However, I agree that design by ego must subside in order to allow design to present itself to our true creative nature. Conversation is likewise necessary, yet for the most part it will still remain primarily a very private dialogue. With this in mind, I both agree and disagree with Mr. Gates in that I’m not quite sure that you do know what your talking about, but enjoyed what you had to say and especially why you said it. Thanx.

Bruce Nussbaum

March 25, 2007 7:43 PM

I think there's plenty of room for star designers and design that comes out of a more open-source model. There are lots of designers who "intuit" their customers through a vast array of mechanisms, including really listening and observing them. I'm wearing a miniMotion watch designed by Yves Behar that is terrific.
What's different is the technology that allows all kinds of people to have input into the design process. Designers who dismiss this also dismiss the likes of Lego who use customer input to develop their Mindstorms NXT robotics kit and other cool stuff. Or the "Counter-Strike" game, developed by the players.


March 26, 2007 4:34 AM

I don't think designers suck and I don't think they're arrogant, they just suffer from two uncommon and generally incompatible character flaws known as altruism and perfectionism. This makes most people in the business world (including myself) both envious and resentful. So, if you're a designer or you aspire to be one (as do Bruce and myself) be empathetic in your design process AND your life. Business needs you more than you need yourself.


March 26, 2007 7:28 AM

Try replacing 'Designers' in this speech's title with any other trade: "Are ______ the Enemy of ____?"

(Next week's column: Are Marketers the Enemy of Marketing? Are Advertisers the Enemy of Advertising?

EASY CATCH-ALL SOLUTION: Make it Democratic!)

in forum language is this TROLLING.

ted danvers

March 26, 2007 8:26 PM

prioritize cradle-to-cradle design? long-cycle product that you can open and upgrade over time? reuse materials again and again?

Sir, corporate planned obsolescence is a business rule. in the real/practical world (vs hippy vision idealism), designers serve that priority.


March 26, 2007 11:47 PM

You know what site sucks as far as design.


March 27, 2007 1:57 PM

You're so full of crap! You suck! I mean honestly, couldn't you say that anybody in any profession sucks? A specific person has a specific job and well, it's their job because they have been given that responsibility and other peole thought them capable of that job. Yes a person should takes others input but you're implying that peolple are not confident in their own job responsibilites, not arrogant.

John Stevens

March 27, 2007 6:38 PM

"Designers are saying that Design is everywhere, done by everyone. So Design is debased, eroded, insulted. The subtext, of course, is that Real design can only be done by great star designers."

No, the subtext is that design can only be done well by good designers.Personally, I'd love to walk in a world shaped with care and sensitivity; so much the better if it was shaped by 'the masses'. Is that likely? I think not. The Mac DTP revolution reminded us that a paintbrush does not an artist make. Skilled graphic designers still get paid, and their 'form-giving' expertise is not (yet) a commodity.

"Designers suck because they are also IGNORANT, especially about sustainability...
when it comes to sustainability, designers make as many compromises--if not more--than business people"

Huh? Sustainability has been high on the design education agenda in Europe since at least 15 years ago when I took my masters, along with other inconveniences like accessiblity, inclusivity and user-centricity. For designers alone to convince their clients (or bosses) and end-users of their value is near-impossible; this is the great disappointing truth that hits design grads when they enter the commercial world. We're all in this together, and it's a circle of responsibility. Do we blame Raymond Loewy for the not-so-Lucky Strike of lung cancer sold through his packaging?


True, design is a risky word in the business world. And yeah, innovation does sound great, doesn't it? (who ever heard of 'bad innovation'?) But so clearly distinct from design. Where are optimisim and emotional connections in innovation? Thanks Dr Blaich for bringing in Charles Eames, form-giver, problem-solver, design-thinker par excellence. Eames said "innovate as a last resort." How do you like them bananas?

"Designers who dismiss this also dismiss the likes of Lego who use customer input to develop their Mindstorms NXT robotics kit and other cool stuff"

Oh, I see. You mean SOME designers are arrogant and stupid. OK, in that case, I'll get off my soap box and do something useful. Maybe I can figure out how to put line breaks in this crappy comment form.


March 28, 2007 9:03 AM

The idea of ‘Design Democracy’ feels wrong. I’m going with ‘Expression Democracy.”

It’s not about whether individuals are as good as professional designers when they create their own commercials, mashups of songs, or animations. It's about how new media via the internet has given people a chance to express themselves more than ever before, and those two are not the same.

Just because ‘Lonelyguy414’ uploads a poem about his job at Burger King that is now seen by millions, gets a book and movie deal out of it, doesn’t mean it’s any good. Bad is bad whether 10 or 10 million people see it. It’s cool people all have an outlet for their so-called creativity thanks to the internet, but if we don’t have standards, then everyone’s work would be considered great–just like our parents who loved every one of our 1st-grade drawings. Last time I looked, EVERYTHING is judged, not on what we are all theoretically ‘entitled’ to, but by opinions, ratings and whatever system of measurement you can name.

Sorry to break the news, everyone can't be a designer. Doesn't mean that they can't be involved with design in some way during the course of their day or be affected by it, but it’s most likely incidental to their true calling.

There’s a reason my plumber doesn’t art direct and I don’t fix pipes–we’d both stink at those things.

At the end of the day, all new media does is give the majority of business people who don’t understand design beyond their vast qualifications of “I know what I like” a bigger pool from which to grab ideas without paying for them.

David Sless

March 28, 2007 9:14 AM

liked your post, even if it's a bit dated. See my full reply at:


March 28, 2007 12:20 PM

Interesting article that proceeds with great naivety – totally ignoring from the discussion of design, the role of corporations, agencies and countries promoting highly mediocre designs to a global audience. Design now is nothing but an extension of fashion – drawing mindless, pompous, jobless souls to the fore. Discussions on the subject are also often held at that level, I am glad that Bruce is stirring the pot at he right time when cooperate Amercia needs to find a new direction.

Yes, Designs suck – especially in the last few decades, especially the once created by the media and powers that be. Good design is every where, but mostly remain unnoticed. It is time now to stop pumping crap designs from top and recognize good designs happening in all corners of the world by unknown and dedicated folks.

It may be important to differentiate good design from those created by media monkeys – that get all the press in good times and the flak in the bad times.

Too Beaucoup

March 30, 2007 3:50 AM

I worked at an ad agency during the desktop publishing revolution and the company bought a couple of Macs. I remember some of the creatives talking about how this was bad because anyone with a computer would be able to create marketing communications materials. You probably recall how some people thought it was a good idea to use every available font in their holiday party announcement, so in a way the creatives were right.

But it always rubbed me the wrong way how some of them believed "good" writing and design were the sole province of "creatives;" as if they were at the top the evolutionary ladder. There was a term they used a lot -- "frustrated creative" -- to describe anyone who worked in the agency that wasn't officially in the creative department, but dared to write copy or design something.

A lot of this can be chalked up to the tension between creatives and suits (a perjorative for account management) that exists in most ad agencies, but it was something I believe still undermines the business to this day.

Chubber Girl

March 31, 2007 12:00 AM

Who do you think you are a Star Editor?

Everyone is an editor!


(especially associate editors)

David Tutwiler

April 3, 2007 7:45 PM

It doesn’t design a long-cycle product that you can open and upgrade over time. It doesn’t design a process that encourages the reuse materials again and again. It doesn’t demand sustainability.

You think DESIGNERS make these decisions? Damn dude, how is it that you have such a good job in such an info-rich area and are so dense? Think heads of consolidated multinational corps. - huge ones going for ultimate gluttony. They force the helpless little creative who just wants a job ,without having to go to Singapore to get it, to design what they say to. "Designed to fall apart" so you need another one soon is not the designer's brainwave. You think designers hold out on technology updates like computer speed? Hell no! We use them more than anyone! I got a new computer just to do a job and it' still not strong enough to do this project. - Dave

Bruce Nussbaum

April 3, 2007 8:20 PM

Dave has an important point--shared by lots of commentators--that designers are not responsible for all the dreck being produced. It's the corporate and marketing people who hire them and tell them what to make and how to make it who are responsible. Do it MY way or I'll get a designer in Asia to do it.

In the hierarchy of business, it is the business person who hires the designer and often tells the designer what to do. This is especially true of companies who sell off price--lower prices. Blaming designers in this context isn't fair. I agree.

But as companies move away from competing on price toward competing on experience and service, this equation changes. Green values are spreading, especially among the young, and designing a laptop that is both light and sustainable, would be a terrific competitive selling point.

Then there is Apple and other very smart companies who should know better. Apple does no better or worse than Dell or HP when it comes to sustainability. So maybe Greenpeace shouldn't pick on it. But we look to Apple for leadership because it is a leader in so many thing and because Steve Jobs and Jonathon Ive are really, really smart.

So with companies who make design and designing experiences their core value, I do think designers have an obligation to focus on sustainability.

Christopher Fahey

April 3, 2007 11:08 PM

Bruce, can you name any decent designers -- that is, people who design things, not "design thinkers" -- who fit the characterization you speak of? Who in the design world actually objects to the providing of design tools to the untrained masses?

I ask because I can't think of any. All the designers I cross paths with think that providing tools to the "masses" is cool and an exciting new place for design to focus. So I wonder who in the world you are talking about? Maybe I exist in a rarified world of enlightened designers and you are somehow aware of a strata of closed-minded mediocre designers who are scared of MySpace. But from my vantage point, I just don't see them.

In fact, the paradigm you speak of -- where a group in power objects to the democratization of their tools -- *does* apply to businesses who have NOT jumped on the Cluetrain and have not embraced the power of design.

In other words, I think you may be pointing the finger in the wrong direction, conflating business decision makers and "design thinkers" with practicing designers.

Bruce Nussbaum

April 3, 2007 11:34 PM

I quote from Keven McCullah's great Core 77 piece: "At one level the backlash is not much more than elitist resentment of design's success. Witness Starck's Icon(ic) outburst: "Nowadays you fart and are a designer... When design was nothing there was a lot of good designer because they was obliged to fight." This school of thought holds that design has lost its magic now that everyone has an opinion on it. Wasn't it just more special when only we cognoscenti swooned over the latest Apple product?"

There are lots more, including many fancy graphic designers who have complained about people designing their own PTA programs since the MAC was introduced.

Sorry, it is a very real problem.

Christopher Fahey

April 4, 2007 3:37 AM

Okay, so there's Starck, who's a madman anyway. That's one. And I'm certain that there are legions of mediocre designers who feel threatened by emergent mass market design tools. But does that constitute a "school of thought" that is actually having a negative effect on the development of design?

When designers call MySpace ugly, they aren't protesting the democratization of design tools, and they are not doing anything to hinder regular people from practicing what they see to be "bad design".

In short, I'm not afraid of this "backlash". It's easily ignored, and poses no significant threat to the ability of good designers to practice their craft. The far, far bigger problem, of course, is dumb business strategists who ignore designers, both amateur and pro.


April 6, 2007 6:49 PM

Very funny and provocative speech.

I actually think we life in gamma rather than beta. Small difference, but sites like Flickr describe themselves that way and I'm apt to agree.

In other words, our basic beta (from a website to, dare I say it, "life") gets pretty much accepted as a working model, but development continues as gamma ad infinitum. It's rather fun and liberating to think of it that way!

Andrew Maben

April 10, 2007 4:46 PM

A. " is the business person who hires the designer and often tells the designer what to do."


B. "So with companies who make design and designing experiences their core value, I do think designers have an obligation to focus on sustainability."

Given quote A how can quote B be taken seriously - if we're talking about sustainability then "the business person" has an "obligation to focus on sustainability". I'd be amazed if you'd find any designer who would push back if told that sustainability should be a consideration.

(and yes, this comments box is rather crappy)

Harold Poon

April 11, 2007 2:23 AM

I am myself a design student, but i somewhat agree with the Mr Nussbaum. I started to discover as i learn more from my course, that 'sustainable design' is an oxymoron. looking at the present so-called 'sustainable designs', most are just justifying their products as sustainability-prioritised, but not truly sustainable.

I take the iPod recycling program as an example. Great that they're recycling their products, but they are still making more things hence producing waste, recycling them only mean less waste. by far say designers are helping the environment, we are just slowing its decay. Since the world is still stuck in a consumeristic mind set, designers are just trying to satisfy material desires in a less environmentally harmful way.

True sustainable design is not the production of new products and artifacts, but the elimination of products. It may be totally unrealistic and hard to imagine, but i suppose this is what designers do, think about unrealistic solutions and compromise them to be realisable.

Bob Jacobson

April 12, 2007 10:26 AM

The infusion of design throughout society can only be a good thing IF it increases lay practitioners' understanding and broader application of systematic design methods in non-design situations.

In my random research, I've discovered that many professional designers have a weak or no theoretical knowledge of design as a process, other than as a sort of applied art. Perhaps the challenge posed by "losing" work to the hoi poloi will spur professional designers to become more literate about their trade.

The backlash, however, derives from deeper motivations. I suspect that it's promoted at least in part by individuals and organizations who don't grok design as a worldview and a methodology, and who are simply resentful of those that do. A backlash against the backlash, one powered by rigorous intellectualism as well as emotion, could be a positive development.


April 16, 2007 7:39 PM

Interesting speech. First off, I don't like the tone, and second, I don't like the insult. How can Designers not suck if their clients suck in the first place? Most clients these days care more about quantity than quality. The question here is how CAN we put value into sustainability? You can't. Not until firms, organizations and companies are going to start failing because they're not sustainable enough. Till then, you can scream your lungs out yelling sustainability and no one cares. It's all about incentives, and right now there is no incentive.


April 17, 2007 7:53 PM

(google translate...sorry)
The good design is the one that is sold. The client has what she deserves herself. The design is damaged because of the client.

The client is the enemy of the design.


April 18, 2007 2:30 PM

The designers/Architects in the US are "greener" than the ones in Europe! ...Beacuse the Bank of America is building one single domicil... Give me a break. Are you serious!? You guys have been poluting like morrrons for years and one building powered by low energi is going to change all that!

Dear Sir.
Europe has been creating green powered houses for years and years, and are still in the forefront. US research is done by Europeans... Open a book and read.


April 20, 2007 10:44 PM

I've been thinking a lot about the accessibility of design lately, particularly in regards to developing teaching tools for the knitting community (which is exploding - see so I was particularly interested in your sandbox comments.

As I've talked to knitters of all different ages and backgrounds and then relating their comments to your article, I'm reminded of not so many years ago that doctors were gods. Very few people without medical degrees thought they had any say in their own conditions or in treatment options. The doctor knew what was best, which was sometimes dictated by which drug company reps had the best swag, and as a patient or family member, you bowed to his dictate. I remember a nurse friend who once told me that in her nursing training they were required to stand whenever a doctor entered the room, regardless of where they were or what they were doing. Now, predominantly with the expansion of the internet and the accessibility of information, more people have taken significantly more control over their health, health problems and the choosing of treatment options.

I find that most people still attach some mystical stigma to those they see as "creative," especially if they DESIGN stuff (whatever that stuff may be). They will make amazing, incredible things but then say what a shame it is that they are not creative. They could never "design" anything. Much of this has been fed by the "elite" but I also think it's very much a carryover from the view that certain things must be done by a specialist, someone who has spent years in school and training. Only they, after all (because they have paid their dues), are eligible to create.

Certainly in the knitting community, there is a great amount of inclusion and generosity of design ideas, involvement in giving back to communities and giving to charitable projects and a desire to follow the green with renewable materials such as wool, alpaca, cotton, bamboo, soy, corn and others. (We've all been asking the same question about when these plant-based, and dare I say, scrumptious, fibers will be more affordable.) But, still, people feel intimidated.

Anyway, thanks for the willingness to stir things up a bit here and make some of us think again about what design means for us and where we're headed.

Bruce Nussbaum

April 20, 2007 11:02 PM

This was a brilliant insight--doctors and medicine. They were gods, keepers of all the content. Then we shifted to a more open, consumer-type kind of medicine, participating in our own well-being, using WebMD and other sites to gain information.
Now we are going through the same transformation in design, business, education and all other fields. But medicine was perhaps the very first field where this happened.

Dana Cranstone

April 23, 2007 3:08 PM

Should designers be afraid of design by the masses? Only if our designs aren’t strong enough to be appreciated. As designers we only deserve to make a living if we can do well enough for people to value the difference we can make – either through our designs, or through our advice in a collaborative design model. (Do I find it frustrating when a client wants to make a change that I don’t think is helpful – of course, but that’s part of the job. You do the best you can with what you are given.) • I appreciate average people who care about participating in design within their lives. It’s where we all got started. It’s their life – they should want to participate. • As for sustainability in design – That’s a heavy thing to lay on designers. I think society has to change, and I hope that everyone can help with that; by supporting positive initiatives, by following sustainable principles as much as possible both in our private and our work lives, by voicing the value of sustainable practices even when it is not “cool”, and by turning down jobs that represent the worst excesses. • Sorry, buying carbon credits sounds very nice, but I think we eventually have to make some real changes in our lifestyles. • As for comment box limitations - I hope your point is more valuable than the line-endings. Some things don’t need great design to be valued for their content or usefulness.

Lilia Alieva

April 29, 2007 5:04 PM

Hallo Bruce,
thank you for the work.
A lot of ideas sound similar with headlines of a good book by Viktor Papanek - Design for the real world. And I can figure out why, for instance, all these banana-bamboo things, made by locals somewhere in jungle,will always get a target audience: they made for those who are supposed to use them and not for those who produce them ("designed for people - not for designers"). And I think that the best design pieces are already made - by nature? and designers' task is to find them and to adapt - when it is needed - for today.
Sorry for spontaniousness. But the theme is very important for me.
Best wishes,


May 3, 2007 6:45 PM

Design-by-comittee sucks. Design-stars are arrogant. Participatory Design is beautiful but too impractical. There definitely needs to be a balance. Designers should be regarded as facilitators of experiences. If he/she can do it with a strong, unique and creative vision; that should differentiate the mass with all the tools vs. real designers and design leaders. Tools don't make the artist nor do they make great designers.

One more side-note that I think is really a differentiating factor for many designers is their attention to details. Without the obsessive care to the details of aesthetics, user-experience, materials, symbols...etc. innovation or design just becomes another gimmicky idea without inspiring connections to everyday people.

Kevin Flahaut

May 4, 2007 3:07 PM

There are some good ideas to consider here although I feel the article was a little too unbalanced overall.

I understand that the article was intended to provoke thought and conversation, but it seems to ramble on a little aimlessly at points. Is bad design truly the root of all these social and envrionmental problems? It's a little too much sensationalism for me. I was beginning to expect some theory on how designers planned the Kennedy assasination or something along those lines.

That being said, I do agree with the need to embrace this new culture of design and to further involve clients and mentor them in good design. I actually find it refreshing when I get some good design ideas from a client. I enjoy the interaction with the them on that level. I don't however, think that design should be without any controls or process. From my experience, when you give clients that much free reign with the design and don't provide adequate guidance, you more often end up playing in the "Catbox" than the "Sandbox" if you know what I mean.

Chris Sloan

May 7, 2007 5:54 PM

What a load of crap, just because I have the food network at home by no way implies that I should be telling Emirl how to cook. For example - Professional Design now client interference You decide, but I say if you want it done right leave it to the experts, it's what your paying them for.

octavian mihai

May 15, 2007 12:01 AM

Great article!

I would add that sustainability includes, in interactive design, the capacity to express the branding and the storyboard.

Also, I would have to disagree about design=innovation. At least in the advertisement world, where I’ve passed my last 10 yrs, we use for 1-2 years now creativity (=design). It has a funkier flavour.
Innovation, in my mind, is creativity in motion. (and creativity would be design + the way to implement it)

Congrats again for having the guts! :)

Here is my trackback:

Comments welcome.


September 30, 2007 12:02 PM

Nice article


October 18, 2007 8:28 PM

Just remember - only stupid man can say that he is clever. That concers designers too. I know a lot of website designers (because I work at web design company), but there is ONLY a couple of professionals among them.


November 1, 2007 8:37 PM

I agree with much of what you have stated.
Irina Shtarkman


December 16, 2007 9:33 AM

Design is a creative profession. Years of university training, experience and fresh out of the box thinking with numerous other variables form the basis to solve a communication problem to - in the end - create an aesthetic pleasing product that make people's live easier.
Not everybody can do that. Even if I would give you the best paint, you still can't just create a Rembrandt painting.

So respect profession and hard work. It's easy to insult and state that all designers suck, but instead you should all focus on solutions. Have you ever even considered that it might be the global business processes, budgets, factory production methods; or laws that designers are forced to comply to?


February 14, 2008 9:31 PM

Journalism and design are very similar, we are both "transformation" professions. We take in information, process it objectively, apply our expertise, insights and--if we are lucky--a little wisdom, to produce something people value and hopefully benefit from the experience. Journalism and design also have democratization in common; since the mid 90's when "no one knew you were a dog" on the internet and now recently with blogs, wiki's and social networks, our media coverage is becoming more democratized every day with everyone writing their own news stories. I agree that everyone wants to design their own world, and they should, but I think as with journalism, there is still room for the professional to make the standout contributions

Saying designers suck, or that its our fault that consumers don't want to buy sustainable products--or worst our client desire to make them, is like saying journalists suck because they can't change people's perception of the issue. Or that while they are ethical, moral and operate with integrity--like their design colleagues, they are nevertheless swayed by their publishers, advertisers and investors--so they suck. Perhaps your next "they suck" article should be on your own profession? Given how obsessed you all were over Monica's dress, I would have expected a little more aggressive coverage of these past 8 years given the material you had to work was much richer with intrigue and innuendo.

I think while your intention was well placed, your cheap execution diluted your message. In short you had a poorly designed article.


March 22, 2008 6:37 PM

Great writing and article! Swedes tend to think of English design as green leather Chesterfields and Laura Ashley. But there was so much fantastic furniture-making and cutting-edge design happening in England and I wanted to bring that here.



April 26, 2008 3:53 AM

"Back to the backlash against design. Designers suck because they are also IGNORANT, especially about sustainability. The rap against designers is that they design CRAP that hurts the planet. That’s the argument."

Designers might be ignorant about many things, just like business people are. However that's one mindbogglingly juvenile (ignorant?) argument. Designers are paid to drive the consumption, just like salesmen are paid for sales -- should we blame sales clerks at Target for luck of sustainable consumption?

Here is cute, yet surprisingly insightful explanation of current state of affairs with sustainability:

The gist is articulated at 12 min: "The ultimate purpose of American economy is to produce more consumer goods" -- the economic advisor to president Eisenhower. "People should not be afraid to shop" -- president Bush. Designers have not invented that little golden consumption arrow in the clip.

Interaction Design is design of time


October 1, 2008 6:41 PM

This is the best article I have ever read from you Bruce. Relevant, to the point and inspiring in the sense that it infuses inspiration in designers like me and it accurately depicts designs current state...

Mersha Aftab

November 13, 2008 11:49 PM

I like your article. But would like to take your attention to the growing concept of open source as well.

It is a platform where designers design and exchange thr work for free to be used by other cultures, designers, people for their needs..

I would like to state that such initiatives like sthe open source etc are a step towards what ur saying...(" design by masses"). Implication of which is unknown and will not be accepted by a large scale of people/ innovators/designers.

Designers are also threatened. The main thraet for us is not to loos on the quality and speciality of our ideas and thoughts.



March 7, 2009 3:33 PM

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March 9, 2009 2:37 PM

What an article? I think it presents very strong arguments against a design that doesn't sustain. For more on design and durability visit@


April 15, 2009 10:53 AM

I wonder how would you change your article two years later now?


June 9, 2009 3:39 AM

designers ARE VERY arrogant.
some 3 year olds can come up with better ideas.

Nishant Sharan

November 17, 2009 4:38 PM

Innovation & Design is the key for survival in this Global Competitive world.
Value Engineering is needed in every type of Designing Field in order to step further ahead without compromising the Quality.So I think Designers should be left alone to experiment with full freedom.Success & Failure are part of one's professional life,but the thing is that we need to constantly look for something new in order to have good Business Growth as well as competitive edge.
Thanx & Regards


March 4, 2010 6:22 AM

This article is so idealistic its absurd.

Lets face it everything has been designed to death all ready. All we're doing is re-editing our environment. Web 2.0 is an example of that. Everyone seems happy to be part of herdalistic facebook generica. Too lazy to explore the real net, what's left of it. Web 2.0 is only benefiting from format shifting. That is mail to email to facebook. Nothing innovative with it, except for the capitalistic incentive to be the first to do it.

Nussbaum you talk about sustainability,
what about the sustainabilty of creative diversity? Languages are lost, design dumbed down to the lowest common denominator, need I write a list.

Designers have every right to be arrogant. Rather than communicating ideas, theyre too busy providing the cosmetic facelift our society doesn't need.

Step aside management, let them get on with the job.

Aaron Winters

April 9, 2010 5:56 PM

In the 2+ years since this was written (I'm just reading it for the first time) I can see a huge hole in the logic that designers need to get over themselves and let the amateurs/clients have their way. Letting folks into the conversation has always been part of the design process ... I cant know the intricacies of a muffler shop or their clients' needs as well as the mechanic or owner, obviously its imperative to include them. To say designers dont is ignorant and arrogant.

The real dilemma is that with the advent of consumer-oriented 'design-approximating' software (Wordpress, the various Photoshop clones and pirates, Publisher, online design template tools) the collaboration didnt stop at a reasonable threshold where the professional still has a say, and therefore has a purpose and -- most importantly -- maintained the right to charge professional level fees for their expertise and ability to actually execute the idea well.

The comparison to architecture is fallacious since its a legal requirement to have sign off for safety reasons and other city building codes. Nothing stops your average shopkeep from building the next mediocre site that completely ignores design, uniqueness, branding and effectiveness for
"good enough." Too often the concept of paying a designer to do something well is considered an extravagance.

How is that collaborative? Given the financial shift -- and huge hit to our integrity -- since this was written I think its safe to say enough of us have been humbled. With the demands of experience and technical knowledge expand and diversify while wages go lower and lower I think its safe to say whatever pedestal this was written from is far from threatened by whatever it is its warning against.

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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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