Design appealed to me as a teenager for a reason that would probably make my professors shudder today: I loved the idea that I could plug away on projects in my own little bubble, subject only to my own creativity and largely unbothered by the opinions and influence of other people. It wasn’t long after I developed that image of the trade that it was unceremoniously dismantled. Design is built around other people, and the lines between design and numerous other professions blur by the day.
That hasn’t deterred me from loving design. If I hadn’t picked up an interest in the aesthetics of design long ago, I might not care about the human needs that give design purpose. I might not see all there is to improve in the world, nor have an obvious means to play a part in fixing it. Still, I am an introvert to my core. With so little practical experience in assessing a person’s needs and devising solutions to make their lives better, the human-centric approach to design remains unfamiliar and intimidating to me.
There’s a lot at stake. We stand at a tipping point as a species, as time runs out to take action on climate change, beat back wealth disparity, create accessible healthcare, and mitigate the rise of authoritarianism across the globe. I hope that the growing threat of failure — and the potential of triumph against all odds — sufficiently motivates me and all of us to go about our jobs with boldness, honesty, and empathy.
That means leaving our comfort zones and seeking out solutions with a fine-tooth comb. That means listening actively and with empathy, and not just for what we expect to hear. That means exhaustive ethics at all stages of the process, from research to prototyping to testing to maintenance.
The riskiest thing we can do is play it safe.