Okay, not sure if I have my full argument figured out here, so help me out if you see where I’m going or see gaps I can fill in. Especially since this got awfully rambly as I went.
As Fredric Jameson famously remarked, it is now easier for us to imagine the end of the world than an alternative to capitalism
Design became fully integrated into the neoliberal model of capitalism that emergedduring the 1980s, and all other possibilities for design were soon viewed as economically unviable and therefore irrelevant.
Market-led capitalism had won and reality instantly shrank, becoming one dimensional. There were no longer other social or political possibilities beyond capitalism for design to align itself with.
I don’t just mean “Are Dunne and Raby against capitalism” (yes), but the deeper question – is it possible to practice their holistic take on design within our capitalistic society of the now?
At the heart of their paper is this passage, which jumped out at me and endeared me to them immediately:
“it is becoming clear that many of the challenges we face today are unfixable and that the
only way to overcome them is by changing our values, beliefs, attitudes, and behavior. Although essential most of the time, design’s inbuilt optimism can greatly complicate things, first, as a form of denial that t he problems we face are more serious than they appear, and second, by channeling energy and resources into fiddling with t he world out t here rather than the ideas and attitudes inside our heads that shape the world out there.”
They seem to be claiming that these unfixable challenges seem to be brought on through deeply entrenched system, which must be rethought and reworked from the ground up. This is not dissimilar to feminist ideas of the patriarchy or deep systemic oppression* – systems which must be reworked and uprooted wholly, as they are all interconnected.
Which brings me back to the question about the user who doesn’t *want* to know about the issues surrounding his toaster. Can we lead lives as uncaring consumers and still bring about this deep-felt change? Dunne and Raby directly caution against the designer being the only individuals in the ‘meta critic’ role we discussed
Designers should not define futures for everyone else but working with experts, including ethicists, political scientists, economists, and so on, generate futures that act as catalysts for public debate and discussion about the kinds of futures people really want.
And in fact it seems important for them for all these issues and challenges to be discussed and grappled with in a deep way by any and all individuals – a sort of mega participatory design of our possible future. But in order for that to be possible, the consumer cannot be passive.
But how do we deal with this issue in the now? If I as a designer agree with Dunne and Raby, what should I do? Where should I work? Where *can* I work and still follow through on challenging our deeply set system? Their mindset seems to be set far in the future where most anything – probable, possible, or plausible could happen. But how do we start? Even within our very socially critical and aware HCI program, we as designers are still being trained and positioned in order to enter the realm of huge huge corporations, full of issues of power and privilege.
At the end of writing this I suppose I’m beginning to see Tiffany’s frustration (Maybe – might just be my own flavor) – What Dunne and Raby speak about is the need for design to…activate people. Perhaps that’s a way of putting it. Moving from the passive consumer spoon-fed by the markets, simply hoping that things will improve to an active instigator, dreaming of what futures they want to live in and challenging the present. But businesses won’t give that power up so quickly, and neither will the consumer. It’s easy and comfortable as hell.
I believe Stephen spoke to Jeff after class about the position critical design could/should take in the way we work, which may be the ‘real’ question I’m asking here. I’m not sure. What do you guys think? How can we begin to grapple with such a huge problem?
*As I understand it. Please feel free to correct.