Design is political

Sold as endless creativity, replicated aesthetic, and trendy progressive hashtags with only the best intentions. Design can change the world, all the while amping your Instagram feed.

Design welcomes sticky notes of hope slapped onto large-scale problems, and our collective action translates change-maker words and phrases on posters and buttons. Cutesy takeaways from vague progressivism work nicely in curated Instagram posts, juxtaposing the xenophobia and SJW rhetoric pouring through our twitter feeds. We reduce our good intentions to aesthetic garbage and celebrate our “solutions” design. Believing in the promise of progress—in design or disciplines alike—is easy when you belong to a class reaping the benefits. Idealizing futures to benefit first-world privileges creates a reality you already know. Our good design, then, is not to deconstruct the implications of design, systems and for whom they benefit, but to practice good business and silence design’s capitalist nature under trendy rhetoric.

There’s no surprise that “successful” design jobs identify under “valuable” brands. The value in this sense, referring to Google, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft or alike deemed by lists conjured by Forbes to animate consumption. The design education strategy matches industry ideals—the student moves from intangible design thinking in the classroom to design thinking in bean bag chairs. Even if hyperbolized, the imagery is present and levels in theatricality as design thinking itself. Following a process of rhyming words—ideation, creation, and manipulation (oops)—sets the tone of research projects, and interviewing a single subject matter expert is deemed sufficient. Lacking in critiques and steeped in assumptions—the designer may present poverty porn or exaggerated visual data. Embrace the designer savior complex because it helps the user, right?

Practicing business-first design feels right within our hyper-competitive industry and globalizing world. You cannot blame a designer for desiring the “successful” job. To claim them a sell-out for working for the man is as naive as the rhetoric of “good” design itself. University education primes the designer to spew trigger words of promised projects. Undergraduate programs push expensive trips abroad over challenging actual global social and political contexts. So if you wish to not challenge them, then, stop spewing your rhetoric. Failing to deconstruct your discipline in tandem with the world around you is not required.

Design practice may be speculative, human-centered, adversarial or fictional without being labeled as such, but design practice is not inherently critical. All design is political and requires positioning—often upholding the status quo. Although, if design education always places moral and ethical responsibility above political discourse, we become stuck in positions of claims rather than collective action. If designers care enough to claim the discipline’s benefits, then, evaluate design and technologies’ means for downfall as well as advancement.