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The Yin and Yang of Design is tearing at me. I had lunch with John Kao, author of the new book, Innovation Nation, and talked about how design thinking needs to be deployed to save America from sinking into a third world country (and who is the best innovation Presidential candidate for 08). A fascinating, happy discussion that led to an agreement to try and get all the candidates together online to talk about their innovation agendas.
Then I returned to the office to read a beautifully written post on Design Observer by Pentagram’s Michael Bierut on why it’s ok to be a dumb blond—why it’s ok for designers just to design beautiful things. Why its OK to be stylists, not strategists. His riff is pegged off the revelation that Miss Teen South Carolina, the very blond and beatiful Lauren Caitlin Upton, who appeared to pretend to be stupid was, in fact, not and was going to major in graphic design.
Beneath his sweet, funny but serious attack on designers for wanting to be strategists, is a long thread of comments, mostly by people who agree with him. Bierut mocks those who want a seat at the corporate table and he has lots of people who agree with him. Most appear to be graphic designers but I’m not sure.
Michael and I have kind of been battling about this for two years now and it’s a very serious debate. Maybe because I believe in social service (an old Peace Corps background) or maybe because I believe in the power of the design process or maybe because I am not a designer but a design observer, but I’d like those designers who have the skills to try and use them to help solve our communal messes in health, education, transportation, and yes, even our political process. I am just so amazed at the evolution of design into a sophisticated way of solving problems that I can’t imagine NOT using design thinking to come up with a better health care system.
But I am still the guy who came up with the term “product lust.” I still love beautiful things and experiences and expect designers to keep creating things of beauty. To me, this isn’t an either-or choice. Why should it be?
What I can’t figure out is why it’s so important to so many graphic designers to insist on only being a Dumb Blond. Industrial designers don’t seem to have this compulsion. Do architects?
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