Designing the World
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MODERATOR: What does this cataclysmic future mean for the design world? Is there a way for us to address these issues?
JOE FORTE: Meaning, are we optimistic?
CAROLINE PAYSON: I don’t know. When you’re looking at students in design schools, or students anywhere, I see that although they might have this recognition of the possibility of cataclysm, I would be unwilling to say that they weren’t optimistic that things might get better by people working together.
TONY WHITFIELD: I was talking to the parent of one of the students in the senior class about the work that her son was doing. She said, “You know, the one thing that really makes me happy is that this work is hopeful.”
CAROLINE PAYSON: Absolutely, I mean, two weeks ago, I was in New Orleans, and we had these kids from St. Bernard’s Parish redesigning their school’s courtyard, because they got 17 feet of water and were using the carport roof as a dock; and 300 people were living in the school for two weeks because it was a refuge of last resort. And so now, they were working on redesigning their courtyard. Whether or not any of those things get built, it was allowing those kids to see a future. I mean, I’m crazy optimistic that design is a real key to seeing the future, often for people who wouldn’t see it in any other way.
JOE FORTE: I think it’s hard to imagine today large-scale optimism, but I think that design is optimism at the proper scale. I mean, what it allows for is the engagement of a series of individuals of like minds in some vision of future use. And they might not even be thinking about the future as such—just that there’s a time after this time, in which what they make will be used. That’s one of the definitions of what makes humans, the ability to think about a tool over time, and the tool in your hand. It’s this very scale of design in this moment, which is, in its way, both compact and global, that makes me optimistic. What you do not get is a grand narrative, and I think that’s probably to the better in the long run.
Although, Tony’s involved in a grand narrative, of an integrated world, and Caroline is involved in a grand narrative, which is education as a transformative tool—those are grand narratives, but each one of the objects that it plays out around are local and particular.
We talk about how the hedge funds and financial markets took off. They took off because there were a lot of foot soldiers. And even foot soldiers who were working at low-level jobs at investment banks played a part. In a strange way, I think what Tony and Caroline and I are doing is training the foot soldiers of a different kind of transformation. People who are going to be able to understand certain details of design as indicators of a larger collective enterprise, which is ... sustainable, with a capital “S,” for the state of the world, the humane world.