In-house Issues: Zero History, Zero Relevance

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As I was reading a review of the science fiction author (and coiner of cyberspace), William Gibson’s new book, “Zero History”, I was struck by how incredibly relevant his last 3 novels are to the design community and how few designers would probably even know to pick up one of his books.

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.Fortunately, in spite of this observation, there is a trend among key design organizations to broaden the participants in the ongoing dialogue on design beyond just designers. In today’s rapidly changing cultural, political and societal landscape, though, it’s a trend that needs to accelerate exponentially and spread beyond the realm of design blogs and conferences into the daily habits of designers in the course of their everyday lives.

Though, purely anecdotal, I sensed a shift in the audiences at the past GAIN and Make/Think conferences when the likes of Malcolm Gladwell, Roger Martin and Grant McCracken took the stage. Kudos to AIGA for exposing the design community to these intellectuals and academics. The proportion of designers to these other individuals on the roster of future events should shift even more towards the latter to further enrich and expand the context of design within our community.

The practice of broadening the thought leadership within the design community to include non-designers is also a two-way way street. Anyone invited into our decidedly insular fold, definitely walks away with a more enlightened view of our practice and practitioners. Hopefully, their new perspective spreads out to include their colleagues, raising the perception of our profession in other disciplines.

Most important is the potential positive impact this inclusiveness on the part of AIGA and other design groups may have on the behaviors of individual designers. It’s too easy for us to single-mindedly focus on what we designers have the greatest passion for – all things design. Following the lead of AIGA would be a good thing.

The value of expanding one’s interest beyond design annuals and collecting vintage consumer packaging isn’t really a secret. When reading the bios of the most influential and successful designers, I’m always struck by the books, magazines, movies and music they note as having the biggest influence on them. They’re invariably primarily about subjects and disciplines outside of the design realm, where, in contrast, based on my conversations and business dealings with other designers, the proportion of design to non-design interests for most is the opposite. Could it be that these design leaders’ broad interests contributed to their success?

If we don’t consciously and aggressively continue to grow our experiences and focus to include business, technology (beyond Apple and Adobe), philosophy, anthropology, pure science and even (OMG) mathematics we’ll be reduced to craftspeople with little to contribute to the most important endeavors of our society. Zero historical perspective into other disciplines will surely result in zero relevance for our profession.

One thought on “In-house Issues: Zero History, Zero Relevance

  1. zh

    One of Gibson’s long-time collaborators, Bruce Sterling, is also a champion of the evolving role of design, and served as resident lecturer at Art Center in Pasadena and CAC in SFrancisco.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bruce_Sterling

    Check out his thoughts:
    Tomorrow Now: Envisioning the next fifty years (2002)
    Shaping Things (2005), a book about created objects

    http://www.amazon.com/Tomorrow-Now-Envisioning-Fifty-Years/dp/0679463224

    Great food for thought. Thanks!

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