On Thursday we launched the RSA's new Design & Society programme. We gave away copies of this poster we made with Anthony Burrill and Adams of Rye and here's what I said.
This country is awash with great designers; has been for years. But as citizens we’re showing limited ability to design our own future. There’s a big gap between the professional provision of the design industry and our common competence and readiness to solve the problems around us – our environment, our health, the education of our children, our imagining and realisation of a good, shared future.
We all know exactly how the gap happened. In last century designers achieved such sublime exercises of skill and judgement right across the gamut of need – from the toys and baubles of private luxury to housing and transport and labour-saving devices for everyone, and iPods – such sublime exercises of skill and judgement that of course the rest of us are cowed into assuming we leave design to the professionals. The twentieth-century triumphs of designers have led everyone else to forget how much they know.
We want designers to see themselves in a different role, and everybody else to stop assuming it’s only designers who do the design. We’re not talking about lowering the threshold of skill and judgement that defines a designer – the sublime exercises need to go on, in fact we need more of them in the public realm. This is not about everyone becoming a designer, but everybody does need a bit of what designers have got.
That thing that designers have got – the best of them anyway – is resourcefulness. They know how the detail and the whole fit together – whether the whole is an object or an idea – they don’t run from complexity and disorder, and they’re not shy about prototyping and improvising and visualising what a solution might look like
We’re going right into that space between the designer and the citizen and trying to find a new accommodation between them. Instead of simply making beautiful resources – which we know designers can do – can they redefine themselves as helping everyone become more resourceful?
These days there’s a design specialist for your brand, your building, your bridge, your packaging, your public space, your website, your wardrobe, your wedding… And some of this design is very civic-minded – from time to time we do get better public buildings and bridges and hospital receptions and classroom furniture. That’s all good, it's wonderful, but it falls into the classic definition of design as problem-solving.
What if, instead of taking the problem away, design showed you how a problem might be solved so you could do it for yourself? What if product design showed you how something was made so you could repair or customise it? What if designers left the job half-done so you could use your own intrinsic design sense to finish it off. Because I bet you know more than you think you do.
This is the RSA Design & Society space. We know it’s incomplete and raises a lot more questions than answers but we're going into it knowing that plenty of you out there agree and that the world already has a small number of outstanding protagonists. Here are a handful: The Open Architecture Network, Aravegna's Quinta Monroy housing development, JoinedUpDesignForSchools and Pascal Anson's home decorating films on YouTube. Jane Fulton Suri of IDEO said in Objectified that the most exciting thing about design right now is how it can make everyone more creative.