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Where design can make the biggest impact in the next decade, according to over 30 experts

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A third of Americans don’t believe climate change is affecting their communities, and they reject technological and government investment to fight global warming, warns Frog Design founder Hartmut Esslinger. A swath of citizens “reject the efficacy of masks and vaccines to avert COVID-19. They believe that Trump won the 2020 election” and they dismiss gun violence. He adds: Some “TV networks and social media companies exist . . . on the basis of lying and distributing lies to the American public. Design cannot solve any of this . . . Darwin may.” These days, Esslinger is focused on tackling the planet-poisoning waste that results from the planned obsolescence of consumer products. But can designers stem our addictions to corporate profits and shiny new gadgets? The answer is crucial. As Slow Factory Foundation founder Céline Semaan says, “Designing for human survival will become the new necessary field of design: ecosystems over aesthetics.” Among the scores of global design luminaries commenting on the future of design, a handful of top educators express hope. Don Norman, founding director emeritus of the Design Lab at the University of California, San Diego, says the emerging generation of designers must be steeped in history and material science, and several other educators see young designers moving in the right direction. “Within the next 10 years,” says Dori Tunstall, dean of design at OCAD University, in Toronto, “generations of designers will expect design to be a place for the full expression and acceptance of a diversity of histories and identities of making, without a hierarchy.”—Jay Woodruff

I believe designers are fundamental to solving the greatest challenge humanity has ever faced. By our nature we are problem solvers, and importantly we understand how to frame the question in order to solve the right problem. With the incredible complexity of the climate situation and little time to spare, we must be able to ask the right questions and come up with answers beyond the old defaults. So far, our solutions haven’t been working, which means we have to think differently. This is the foundation of creativity and what we use our ‘design muscles’ to do every day. Now we need to channel all our efforts into a common goal. If we can do that, designers will play a key role in salvaging the future and finding a place where humanity can thrive along with the planet. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, ‘design sits prominently at the heart of the circular economy.’ We really do need to redesign everything, not just objects and spaces, but our processes as well. The next frontier absolutely needs designers.—Verda Alexander, cofounder, Studio O A

One major issue weighing on my mind is how we must accelerate the hydrogen and electric transportation prototyping and deployment. We could reduce C02 emissions by up to 80% if we used sustainable aviation fuels, but it’s two to three times the cost of jet fuel. Why aren’t we designing our way out of this, getting government involved, and subsidizing this? Governments should follow New Zealand’s example when Jacinda Arden declared a climate emergency based on science in December 2020 and worked with other institutions, designers, and leaders to communicate the urgency: ‘Be on the right side of history. Be part of the solution we must collectively deliver for the next generation.’ Importantly, we must design methods that make our planet’s revival the central focus for all humankind. We must redesign infrastructure, regulations, tax incentives, other devices to start the revolution, the new way of thinking and living. We must make this existential threat real by designing communications that send the message home and then come together to design our way out of this.—Caroline Baumann, former director, Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian National Design Museum

In the next decade we will have to become fluent in reparative design and designing for chaotic events: how do we survive a tsunami, how do we design for irrigation, how do we design for top-soil regeneration, designing for human survival will become the new necessary field of design: ecosystems over aesthetics.—Céline Semaan, founder, Slow Factory Foundation

Two of the biggest areas for design’s impact in the next decade are climate change and AI. First, we can design systems and nudges that could help billions of people live more sustainable lives and reverse the impact of greenhouse gases. Second, we live in a golden age of AI where we’re just starting to realize its potential in helping us live, learn, work, play, and stay healthy. For instance, machine learning enabled us to build live caption, which can transcribe any and all media with audio in realtime on mobile phones. That’s a game changer for the deaf and hard of hearing community. While the technology was available, it was designers who came up with the idea. Design can play a critical role in injecting utility, joy, beauty, meaning, and humanity in how AI manifests and integrates into our everyday lives. Technologically, we are living in very exciting times. And design is a big part of shaping it. The future is ours to make up.–Robert Wong, vice president, Google Creative Labs

I believe the next decade of bio-design will transform what it means to design across mediums, and it will have the greatest impact on our future. Bio-design is a mirror and the medium that shows us possible regenerative futures; it will change what it means to design across all categories. Working alongside scientists, engineers, artists and ecologists to create a framework for collaboration, and the tools and technology for implementation, bio-design will help us imagine all the possible futures for us to choose from. The natural world is the most innovative creator and best problem solver. We have so much to learn from its beauty, processes, materials and ecosystems. Out of chaos, comes creativity so I remain optimistic.—Ivy Ross, vice president, design for hardware products Google

I worry about Design Monoculture, where we’re all chasing the same rounded corners. Styles and trends will come and go. It’s a natural part of consumer cycles. But the sense that tech is created for tech – where we’re all converging on the same design direction on the same platforms and devices – makes me wonder what’s next, especially from young designers. Designers can make an impact on dismantling the status quo and decolonizing design to break down the western view. Design can act on the cultural imperialism and savior mentality that tends to result from tech breakthroughs. In the next decade, I’m genuinely excited to see more diversity of thought brought to fruition, reflecting what makes us unique and embracing a thoughtful approach that brings out the richness of the world. —Albert Shum, corporate vice president of design, Microsoft

I believe the next 10 years will be the decade of design decolonization. With COVID-19, #Blacklivesmatter,........

© Fast Company

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