Note: This is Part 9 of the Ruminations for Aspiring Designers series.
Design is almost never a “clean” work in your favourite cloud nine. I hate to say that, instead, design is an exhausting “dirty” work of power, politics and activism, guided by a challenging ethical North Star.
First of all, you don’t really understand design if you don’t understand the politics of design.
As the brilliant book CAPS LOCK shows, design has always been entangled with politics and economics from the very start.
What makes good or bad design happen anywhere depends on who has the most power.Scott Berkun, How Design Makes the World
Secondly, designing for the real world is never an act free of ethics and politics:
…design is a political act. What we choose to design and more importantly, what we choose not to design, and even more importantly, who we exclude from the design process—these are all political acts. Knowing this and ignoring it is also a political act, albeit a cowardly one. Understanding the power in our labor and how we choose to use it defines the type of people we are. As the great Victor Papanek once said, “You are responsible for what you put into the world. And you are responsible for the effects those things have upon the world.”Mike Monteiro, Ruined by Design: How Designers Destroyed the World, and What We Can Do to Fix It (pp. 11-12). Mule Books.
In the world of design, ignorance is hell, not bliss:
A designer uses their expertise in the service of others without being a servant. Saying no is a design skill. Asking why is a design skill. Rolling your eyes and staying quiet is not. Asking ourselves why we are making something is an infinitely better question than asking ourselves whether we can make it.Mike Monteiro, Ruined by Design: How Designers Destroyed the World, and What We Can Do to Fix It (pp. 11-12). Mule Books.
If you don’t want to deal with politics, ethics and activism, then maybe you shouldn’t become a designer.
If you can’t handle angers, then maybe you shouldn’t become a designer.
If you are reluctant to look beyond the existing ethical horizon, then maybe you shouldn’t become a designer.
If you aren’t prepared to endure design’s 85% of dark matter while enjoying its 15% of touchy-feely fanfare, then you’re definitely not ready to become a designer.
You see, design is no different from most other professions or work. It’s neither privileged nor good-looking.