Design Globalization: Part 3

by Luke Wroblewski December 18, 2006

Part three of Design Globalization: a conversation about the impact of large scale global changes, outsourcing, and international design training/firms on design and designers (be sure to check out part two first).

Dirk Knemeyer A convergence that I'm seeing in this dialog is the inextricable relationship between design and culture. While this is an important part of the very DNA of design in a traditional sense, this connection has been largely absent from the digital design community. After all, since a majority of design professionals in strictly digital contexts lack formal design education and traditional training, they did not enjoy exposure to the more cultural, aesthetic and expressive parts of design that make it the human, soulful craft that it is. Indeed, reflecting on the very thoughtful insights expressed here so far, I might go so far as to say that issues around globalization are proving to be the path by which legions of digital product design professionals actually begin to understand and fully realize the fusion of culture and design.

Joseph, your comment about "an open source network of designers and researchers" really strikes a chord. In fact a friend of mine, Juhan Sonin over at MITRE, has talked for a long time about creating momentum around a formal open source design movement. Others have shown interest in that idea as well, but its somewhat instructive that there has been very little traction around open source design as any sort of meaningful movement, whereas open source programming has been an incredible phenomenon. I've got some ideas about why open source design hasn't taken off in the same way, but I want to leave that for a later conversation.

Honing in very specifically on globalization, one of the issues I have with the rhetoric and conversations coming from the design community is a sense that design and designers are particularly or even uniquely suited to contributing to business success in the current and emerging global paradigms. I just don't buy that. While these changes are empowering designers to fill a vacuum that other disciplines have been slow to fill - and in the process gaining some important respect and function for design in a broader business context - that is more an opportunistic reality than an essential one. Indeed, the most successful people in business in the future are going to come from many different backgrounds, training and roles. Just because design is beginning to find its legs and assert a role among the chorus does not translate into design being any more special or unique than the other approaches and tools that make for successful business. The design intelligentsia needs to focus less on ourselves - which, by the way, is a historical failing of designers, not just in this context - and begin looking outward into other disciplines and the symphony of business in order to maximize our success and find a realistic place among our peers.

Niti Bhan Taking both Joseph and Dirk's posts into consideration, I see the emergence of something very intriguing - a global informal network of designers and researchers who share information with each other in order to best understand their customers; around the world, one could say. Much of what is available in the blogosphere is already indicative of this trend, now I'd like to throw out some questions to you -

Could this be an early indicator of the rise of a global 'creative class'? One who is already connected to each other and in communication? For example, at the Design Directory I have Tasos Calantzis contributing on design thinking from South Africa, his views and ability to articulate them puts him in the forefront of thought leadership I would say. How would this emergent global 'creative class' ['open source' already in a way] change the way we work and perceive the world? As Joseph indicates in his post, he's already in touch with designers around the world whose ideas he integrates into the products they develop for different locations. There is a cross fertilization of styles, approaches and insights already at work.

Dirk, on the other hand brings up a valid point - that this movement towards 'open source' information sharing or knowledge based networking is far more heterogenous and multidisciplinary. Perhaps the design community were the first to notice it - to fill the vacuum that Dirk refers to - but certainly if one were to look at the myriads of ways and means that technology, communication and the sharing of knowledge is being leveraged its a global movement. Del.icio.us recently celebrated its third birthday, a quick glance at the comments demonstrates the breadth and diversity of folks who are part of this community.

At the same time, I would ask "How can design and designers contribute to this? What would be the emerging skillsets, methods and ideas that will drive and empower this class? What will one need to do and be able to offer in order to create change on a global scale, and more importantly to function effectively in this always changing environment?"

Imho, we seem to be at an inflexion point - particularly those of us who have to skills to visualize and then manifest the implications of this conversation. A social networking site of some sort for designers and researchers around the world, one that is categorized into different areas of interest? The internet originally began as a way for scientists and scholars to share their research data and collaborate with other thinkers around the world. If a community of designers could be created based on everything we've discussed - UCD, open source sharing, brainstorming or offering a sounding board, a means to capture, collate and share the knowledge that we all bring to the table, what could be the ultimate potential of such a 'network'?

There's more...

Continue reading part four of Design Globalization right here on Functioning Form.