As I’ve gotten older, I’ve developed a pretty robust backlog of critiques for this world. When I die and arrive at whatever afterlife I’ve been assigned, I imagine I’ll leave behind a lengthy Yelp review of human life. We always seem to shoot ourselves in the foot as a species, whether out of malice or carelessness. There really is an enormous amount of room for us to do better.
I got matched up with my ideal career choice at a pretty young age. Design has made a certain amount of sense to me as a practice since I was about ten. But as I grew confident in my values and cognizant of the myriad ways in which the systems at work in our society violated those values, so too arose an uncomfortable dissonance between what I knew I’d end up doing for a living and what I felt obligated to accomplish before I leave.
Design school has gradually narrowed that gap. I have learned and practiced what few people outside the field — and once, I, too — would consider to be design: skills relating to interviewing, data interpretation, ethnography and human empathy. At first, trying these tools out made me believe that I could use them to unwind the threads of any problem out there, no matter how big and complicated and entrenched.
Turns out that wasn’t quite true either. Individuals just can’t expect to solve everything by themselves — doing so will only lead to disappointment and frustration. Instead, we have to disaggregate those massive, toxic systems into smaller, toxic parts, and tackle those in hopes that fixing one part of the machine at a time will help the whole thing run a little smoother.
I’m still trying to figure out how all of this works, but I know one thing for certain: design is how we change things. Designers are the ultimate cautious optimists. Designing is a tacit statement of these two things — a leap of faith and a bold statement of trust for the system and ourselves. This, for now, is all we can allow ourselves to have.