11.16.23
Alicia Cheng, Lee Moreau, Lesley-Ann Noel + Frederick van Amstel | Audio

Design As S1E2: Culture Part 2


Alicia Cheng, Lee Moreau, Lesley-Ann Noel, and Frederick van Amstel conclude their discussion on culture and design and decide if "culture" and "design" should be discussed as nouns or verbs.

Subscribe to "Design As" on Apple podcasts, Spotify, or your favorite podcast player. "Design As" is brought to you by Mastercard Customer Experience and Design, a global design community working to accelerate the future of commerce through experience and innovation. Find out more at careers.mastercard.com.

Lee Moreau is the founding director of Other Tomorrows, a design and innovation studio based in Boston, and a Professor of Practice in Design at Northeastern University. He is also the host of The Futures Archive, a podcast from Design Observer that looks at the history of human-centered design with a critical eye to its future.

Lesley-Ann Noel, PhD. is an Assistant Professor in the Dept. of Design Studies at NC State University. Her research interests are emancipatory research centered around the perspectives of those who would traditionally be excluded from research, community-led research, design-based learning, and design thinking. She is co-Chair of the Pluriversal Design Special Interest Group of the Design Research Society, maker of The Designer’s Critical Alphabet, and her book Design Social Change is slated for publication in late November as part of the 10 d.school guides series.

Alicia Cheng is Head of Design at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She is also a founding partner of MGMT. design, a collaborative women-owned graphic design studio whose projects focused on exhibition design as well as museum publications, print, branding, and data visualization. Prior to MGMT, Alicia worked as a senior designer for Method, New York, and was a co-design director at the Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum in New York. She is the author of This is What Democracy Looked Like: A Visual History of the Printed Ballot.

Frederick van Amstel, PhD. is Assistant Professor of Service Design and Experience Design at the Industrial Design Academic Department (DADIN), Federal University of Technology — Paraná (UTFPR), Brazil. In 2020, he cofounded the Design & Oppression network and, in 2021, its local hub at UTFPR: the Laboratory of Design against Oppression (LADO). His latest work investigates designerly and artistic approaches to overcome oppression and other kinds of systemic contradictions.



Transcript

Lee Moreau
Welcome to Design As, a show that's intended to speculate on the future of design from a range of different perspectives.

Lee Moreau
Design As is brought to you by MasterCard, a global technology company in the payments industry. Their mission is to connect and power an inclusive digital economy that benefits everyone everywhere by making transactions simple, safe, smart and accessible. To learn more about opportunities within their thriving design community. Go to careers dot MasterCard, dot com and search for design jobs.

Lee Moreau
This is part two of our conversation about culture. Last week when we spoke, we talked about what really is culture, the definition. We also talked about how that term, the term culture is related to the ideas or the hierarchies between high culture and low culture, where it plays in the kind of distance that it spans. But really, listeners, this shouldn't be the first episode you hear. So I encourage you to go back and listen to that first episode. Don't start here and we'll catch you in about 45 minutes. Let's quickly reintroduce ourselves to this virtual table before we pick things back up. I'm Lee Moreau, founder of Other Tomorrows, a design studio based in Boston. I'm also the host of the Futures Archive. So some of your design Observer listeners might recognize my voice already. And I'm the professor of practice and design at Northeastern University. With me this morning are my friends — Lesley-Ann would you mind doing an introduction?

Lesley-Ann Noel
Sure Lee. So my name is Lesley-Ann Noel and I'm a designer, research and educator. I'm from Trinidad and Tobago, so I'll wave my flag. I'm an assistant professor of design in design studies at North Carolina State University. And I'm the, I guess, creator, that's a grand word of the designers critical alphabet and coeditor of The Black Experience in Design. And I have a new book coming out in November called Design Social Change.

Lee Moreau
Excellent. Thank you. Next in our little Zoom room, here is Alicia Chang.

Alicia Cheng
My name is Alicia Chang. I'm a graphic designer and educator, and I'm currently the head of design at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Prior to that, I was a founding member of mgmt. design with Sarah Gephart. We are Brooklyn based and collaborative, women owned studio. We were doing a lot of work on exhibition design, museum publications, data visualization, branding, etc. And then in 2020, I wrote a book called This Is What Democracy Looked Like. It's on the visual history of the printed ballot, which was super fun, and I'm happy to be here today.

Lee Moreau
Thank you, Alicia. And completing our room is Frederick Van Amstel. Frederick.

Frederick van Amstel
Hi, everybody. I speak from Curitiba, Paraná, Brazil. And I'm currently an assistant professor at Federal University of Technology – Paraná, working mainly in the field of experience design and service design. I'm quite curious about the role of technology in mediating, anticipating and sometimes intensifying or even overcoming oppression, which is one of the contradictions that I study. And I'm always interested on these kind of settings, like we are using technology right now, and there are certainly some biases in these technologies and how can we actually design it for liberating from the oppressive bias? Those are questions that I'm always wondering.

Lee Moreau
Where I think we should start this week, which is related obviously, to what we talked about in part one is the service aspect to what we do as designers or design leaders, depending on how you define it, design educators. And it may be a question — I've always thought of design as a service that I give to the world around me. That's just an orientation that I have. I think actually it's shared by many other designers that I tend to associate with the like and not to get too therapy session here, but, you know, I maybe need to question my own way that I think about this and frame it, but I wonder if we can talk a little bit about the service aspect of what we do as design and how that maybe exists within the framing of who we are versus larger institutions.

Frederick van Amstel
I would like to start right away bring forth for the worker perspective. We are designers, but we also workers, mostly. We don't usually own the companies that we work for. We are not capitalists mainly, right? And therefore we have to sell our work force to the capitalists so we can get our livelihood. And that means that we are serving because that's the the way that the form, the shape of our work takes this world. So we serve a client, but we also serve the client of the client, the user. And that brings forth an interesting contradiction because sometimes the interests of the user is completely opposite way of the interests of the the client who is paying for the service. But are we also serving the ones that are not paying? I guess so, right. And we are always at the crux of this contradictions, having to somehow manage the the conflicting of interests and come out with some kind of a compromise. But on the other hand, we could go much further than that and see also society and the public.

Lesley-Ann Noel
Mhm.

Frederick van Amstel
These general big collective bodies as someone who's we are serving to, right. And if you even go further than that, we are serving humanity, right. But then which part of humanity we are serving? Then the whole things about oppression comes again, the whole material differences. So who gets to have access to the designs that we design and then how we really serving people that cannot access have access to our designs? And then if we get through this first expansive consciousness of, Wow, I serve this humanity, and that little thing that I design will stay and one day we'll be shown in a museum. But then we are also not serving a lot of people that don't have access and through consumption or even access visiting the museum. Then we come back to that and see that we have limits to our conscience and that-that's why we now have to think about ourselves as part of culture and not as someone who is outside of culture. And the concept of critical consciousness came to my mind also, that's something that we may have as a goal as society to build more critical consciousness that the material culture that we have around us and the role that designers play, but also the role of users in this society. And I learned first this concept from Lesley-Ann Noel. She was using concussion even before me in her own design education work, so please—

Lesley-Ann Noel
So I started off as an industrial designer, right? So, you know, designing objects. I was a furniture designer. I worked kind of for myself, so I was designer slash entrepreneur. I would design collections and try to sell them. And then kind of one day this little light bulb went off. That was like, if my friends can't buy my design, what's the point of this, right? And I think that my design practice really dematerialized over many years. If you come back to your original question, which I did not write down, you know, but I wrote down here change agents, possibly, as you know— what are we doing as design or the students that I teach today are not in disciplines specific areas of design. They're in design studies. So we have to think in a different way. And I'm trying to teach them about, this is very grand, about changing the world so that we are serving, like Frederick said, you know, humanity. And, you know, we are trying to ensure that we are serving people who typically do not have access or who are underserved, you know. So when we work on a problem, we specifically are trying to identify where are the underserved communities and how can we serve them. So all of our design challenges become about who is least well served and what are their needs, and how can we then create something for them. Whereas certainly in my design education, I was trained to serve the people who were paying, you know, whether it was the factory or whatever, and the consumer with the most money. But I'd say 30 years later, my practice has really changed. We're not designing objects. We are trying to design programs and policies and, you know, even people who are very ambitious in the class might try to design laws and we are trying to make sure that the populations that are least well served- and so that's why we talk about the oppressions as well at the start of the class, you know, so we're trying to identify how are these people, why are these people not being well served. Is it because of racial oppression, gender, disability, ability access, you know, what is really the oppression that's preventing them from being well served? And how do we address that issue in in whatever design challenge we're working on?

Alicia Cheng
I was going to say I appreciate the nuance of saying serving the underserved, which leads to, you know, inevitably the audience discussion that I'm sure we've all raised. But fundamentally, I actually hate that word of service.

Lesley-Ann Noel
Mhm.

Alicia Cheng
It is so sort of submissive. And the posture, I think, is fundamentally wrong and not anything I wouldn't want to endorse. I mean, at the level I am sort of seeing design as a service, it's really not the kind of position I would wish to promote, but I don't know if there's a better word per se. Maybe we start qualifying it. Is it public service as Lesley-Ann was sort of referring to? Or because we are serving a need, addressing, solving problems, I think I can then use many other verbs and gerunds that come from the word service, but as its own, it bugs me.

Lee Moreau
No, no, this is my own particular curse. I'm not saying this is the way that one should live their lives, but it's certainly a way that I self-identify and I see my role as designer. I'm not saying it's something I would want to teach or continue, but I am attracted because of my own baggage. And I think this goes to everything that Lesley-Ann has in her book about understanding where one comes from. I do have this orientation, it's something I'm trying to work through, and I don't want this to turn into a therapy session. Actually, that would not be the worst use of my time right now, by the way, so. But I— I appreciate that. But maybe to spring from this, I want to tell a story which is: Okay, so we're talking about, in some sense, our role within classrooms and institutions where we have audiences, we think about them. But at some point along the way, a bunch of designers maybe got the clever idea that— Hey, we have this thing that's it's proving to be really useful. We're good listeners. I was taking notes here, we are good at problem solving, we're good at facilitation. Gee, shouldn't we really try to change organizations at the top level of institutions, large corporations, etc., etc.? Now, design, as I said at the beginning of the show, design has a seat at the table, even if I self-identify as serving, what if I'm now leading? Right? And I think I'd like to maybe flip this from the role of service and work to the role of leading and having real responsibility and what that the responsibility comes with. What do we do then?

Frederick van Amstel
Alicia mentioned that she'd had issues with the word service. I have issues with the word leadership. Because we think that change comes from leaders, right? Usually that's the common sense notion, right. And I think that's just part of the story. And even smaller one, of course, leaders recognize as leaders, if they show the path, a different path, a different way of going. Otherwise, if we just keep going the way we always went w didn't-we don't need maybe leader but leader will show, let's move, let's change our direction. But if no one follows the leader, there's nothing happening, right? And the followers— followership perhaps much more important, usually in terms of objective numbers, they are always more followers than leaders, right? And if their followers are not following the leader, it doesn't matter. And then I would say there's surely other ways of conceptualizing change that are also further away from this distinction between leaders and followers. For example, if everyone is empowered to become a leader and in some moment in an organization, for example, in the self-management approach that we employ in our laboratories, where everyone can take the role of a leader any time and there are no fixed the roles, then what's the use of the concept of leadership? Then we have to find other metaphors to describe this kind of change. We usually say that if someone is trying to push forward something then that that person is just a pusher. It's not the leader. But if no one is is is coming with the pusher, then nothing happens. And that's fine. That's really fine because if you are not a leader, you don't need to lead. That's the point. If no one follows you, it's fine. It's just not happening because the collective decide that's not important and then someone is something else that someone else is pushing might happen not because of that particular person, but because the collective is interested on that. There are more people sharing the motivation for doing what was being pushed. And that brings us to a new understanding of the role of design in change society. We may not be the leaders, but although we may be part of these movements of change, that's why I'm also always emphasizing to our students to become part of a social movement, if not be already part of and bring these social movements into the university, into the project, even to the industry practice later on. If you're fighting for human rights in design profession, you are part of a social movement too. Just maybe not so conscious about that, but this is how change happens through other means.

Lesley-Ann Noel
What about if, not servents or leaders —that you know, the words that I've heard kind of thrown around and some I've used, some I've heard Frederick using, collaborator and co-conspir—

Frederick van Amstel
Complicator

Lesley-Ann Noel
Complicator! That's your— right, you know so it's something alongside rather because service maybe implies kind of under and leader is above but you know maybe it's a different level a different tier in the conversation.

Alicia Cheng
I agree. I mean, there's definitely nuances and I can empathize with Frederick's response to the word leadership. It sort of implies either you are or you aren't. So I think the calibration of how you affect change, how you create activations, can be a very individualized response. There are people, personality wise, who don't respond well to that spotlight per se, but they are nevertheless effective in their way. I think remembering that definitionally again, as designers, is we make things. So that even if we are at a table that's like a boardroom table or something that's like community engagement, we can listen and learn and we can make stuff. And I think that makes our seat different than others, whatever that may mean. I think we just also need to remember the making part.

Frederick van Amstel
And if we make things, we probably need to stand up from the seat and stand and do things more actively than just sitting at the table and telling people what to do. I think that's not the way—

Alicia Cheng
Right, we're just talking about it.

Frederick van Amstel
Yeah. It's not even— the way design leadership we manifest in this world, if there was something like that, we would be in the lab in a studio putting our hands dirty with stuff, right?

Lesley-Ann Noel
Yeah. And or even I mean, this-I know this is cliched, but, like, we don't need a seat at your table. We'll make our own table because we make things right.

Alicia Cheng
And we don't want to sit down.

Lesley-Ann Noel
Yeah, yeah, yeah. We make hammocks or, yes. Yeah. Makes other things. Yes.

Lee Moreau
I do see the value of measurement in all of this. And I'm not-to get super quantitative, right. But like just being aware that this notion of followers, Frederick, that you were talking about, like when you see action taking place at a, at a much larger or a massive scale, it's indicative of having done something meaningful and creating meaningful change. Where I get concerned is there's oftentimes sort of coercive aspects to getting people to move in a certain direction. I think you're probably seeing that politically when you're talking about Bolsonaro, you know, fascist leader. But there are other types of coercion that take place, too, in some sort of managing our relationship as designers, whether we're servants, leaders or collaborators, whatever with these forces is is also complicated. We don't always know what's making the change.

Lesley-Ann Noel
No, we don't know. We won't know. Again, this is a cliche — change sometimes-there is massive change and there is that little change that happens from chipping away at a small block of stone. So I am not into measurement, right? You are into measurement. And I am going into this change making with a kind of gut reaction or gut feeling that the trend is supposed to be that change will happen over time, you know, and every now and again something happens that kind of destroys my my gut feeling. I'm like: Oh, you know, we're supposed to be moving towards cumulatively this more and more and more democratic world, then, yes, something happens to make me wonder. But that's what we say, that's what, you know, people, you know, sociologists historically, you know, that's what everyone kind of says. And I kind of have to believe it to be able to do this work. I'm not actually trying to measure because I don't know if the measurement will be able to happen in the time frame that I might be working in. So sometimes with the setbacks, as I said, that there are these setbacks that kind of shake the way that I feel about things. But I think that sometimes a setback is actually maybe a galvanizing point or more fuel because maybe people were actually too passive about an issue. And then this little shakeup might happen that that actually gets more people energized and then some other kind of change happens because of that energy.

Alicia Cheng
I think then it would speak to— it's less about metrics, I think, than it is about scale. So if you're speaking more of like change on the micro level and change on the macro level, it sort of does reference aspects of what I think is effective leadership in the broader way too, because if you have elements and movement happening on the micro level and somebody on the upper level who can recognize that, and elevated that is effective leadership, I think, and that connection between activity and awareness and those issues to upper levels that can influence and really impact and affect change. So maybe that's just another way to frame it, as opposed to the metrics which then sort of builds in, and, you know, like any more commercial project, you're always asked to sort of what are the metrics of success like— I hate to be the one that mentions but — KPI, whatever the performance indicators, you know, like, eww. Like you can't measure change the way you can't measure culture, you can't. So I think though, it's it's the relationship between the micro action and the macro and that connectivity I think is key. Because otherwise it can just feel like you're never being heard.

Frederick van Amstel
You can measure culture, but that might hurt someone who is being measured by it.

Alicia Cheng
Right, who falls outside the measurement.

Frederick van Amstel
Because in human history there are many times, any time someone really tries to measure and immobilize culture— because once you measure, you try, you're basically trying to to stop this process of-this dynamic process that we have been emphasized that is central to culture. But if we set up and the numbers, we stick to the numbers as if it was the reality and we mistake reality for the representation of reality. If reality and culture is always changing and we say, well, we have measured culture and now we have here the picture of it, reality is running away. And as much as you stay within those numbers, as bigger will be the difference between what you have measured and what is the reality itself. And I would say that staying in this trouble and of course we need sometimes the numbers, but we and we have always to challenge them, not-to distrust them because they are always outdated. Once you get the number, it's already not accurate. It's no longer accurate because we are dealing with human beings, and human beings have this marvelous capacity of changing and developing further. And that's whatPaulo Freire called "se mais" —or becoming more. And if we try to fit people in some clear boundaries, that's what he, his definition of oppression was that's becoming less. That you cannot become someone else besides what is expected from a white or a black person. There's already a stereotype for you to follow, and that's part of the great deal of what oppression, how oppression relates to culture. Because these structures, for example, the measurement that we create to manage society, they reproduce the same oppression over and over. So it's hard to get outside of the racial divisions, for example, just to get to one example of one racial oppression here.

Cindy Chastain
Hi, I'm Cindy Chastain, senior vice president of Customer Experience and Design at MasterCard. And I'd like to introduce you to some design leaders from our growing community.

Greg Boullin
I'm Greg Boullin, senior vice president of Experience and Innovation at MasterCard. I co-lead Customer Experience and Design in the Foundry leading experience, research and Insights Practice. I think when people think about MasterCard, they think more about payments, they think about credit cards. And we're much more than that today. I think about more than a credit card company and more as a technology company. So experience research for me is really about understanding what people want, what creates value and relevance for them to actually use something that's going to be meaningful for them. My team in experience research and insights, right, we have experienced researchers, we have experienced strategists. But ultimately, the moniker I have for the team is we've got to design the right thing before we design it right. So that means finding the right problem and then designing the right solutions and the research experience research that we're doing. But generative and evaluative is kind of new because we don't really know how to move the needle on some of these things. And so it's a great place for design to really experiment. And the more we experiment the more we're learning, and I think there's a lot more to come in this space.

Cindy Chastain
From new digital payment product to innovations that empower people and create a more inclusive economy, our growing design community is working to accelerate the future of commerce through experience and innovation. Find out more at careers, dot MasterCard, dot com and search for design jobs.

Lee Moreau
I kind of want to change the topic a little bit. Let's say after school, so in the professional world, you know, personally in my professional career, it was very frustrated between the the reality of professional life coming after academia, where I felt like I was taught certain things and they were no longer welcome in my professional context. So certain skills, value sets, etc. that I learned in the confines of a safe academic environment didn't really have an audience within the professional context — this is working as an architect. And where I'm kind of going with this is like, I'm wondering what is the kind of relationship between what we're teaching and what is actually being who we are in that classroom versus who we are in the professional context. And partly like you have to kind of accept that this is this difference may exist or not, but where is that, like who are we putting out there and who are we as designers in the professional realm? And how do we think about the culture of design that is kind of, you know, actually making the change in the kind of work mode or collaboration, etc.?

Alicia Cheng
And I think as an educator, you can only hope that you are helping shape younger talents, you know, towards a manifestation that is satisfying to them. So I think training them to sort of be more self a self aware, I mean, not in a like a self-conscious type of way, but awareness of themselves and who they bring to any workplace, no matter what their role, I think is so key and sort of character building, so and all the work I think more directly that Fred and Lesley-Ann are doing. But I think, you know, there are commercial realities for sure. And, you know, if that manifests sometimes where people are just taking money from Google to sort of pay the bills and then their side gig is like being an activist— not to promote the bifurcation of that, ideally you'd like it all in one. But wherever they can find it for whatever suits them, I think is what the end goal should be. Obviously one wants all the areas fulfilled and everything one does, but to not stop at, if there's there's not a perfect job or a perfect place or perfect situation that's explicitly hiring. To find it in other ways may not be paid, it may not be glamorous, but to sort of keep that fire alive. But the hope is that even if they do a more lucrative job, that they're still bringing their full self to that job. And true, you know, hiring a troublemaker is not always like, you know, on the list of H.R. qualifications, but an awareness of who you are and your opinions, I think, for me is obviously an added value for the full person.

Lee Moreau
This notion of self-awareness, I think, is important, and it actually brings me back, Lesley-Ann, to your positionality wheel. For our listeners that don't know, can you describe the positionality wheel, conceptually?

Lesley-Ann Noel
Yes. So the idea of examining positionality is something that exists in qualitative research, and I just want to start off there so that people don't think that I created this whole thing of positionality right? It was just that as a designer, I had never done that, which is I had never had to stop and think about all of these elements of my identity before doing work. So when I learned to be a researcher in a more formal way, I had to write a positionality statement where I just I wrote it like a three page essay about who I was, what was my history, where was I born, and what school did I go to, what you know, And I had to reflect on all of these elements of my identity before I started the research that I wanted to do. And what happened is that helped me to see where I might have had some hidden agendas in the way that I was designing the research. And I actually did not change that agenda. It's just that the agenda became public, right? And I could actually declare my background and my identity or my position in the world changed or influenced the way that I want to do the research. And I had to write about that. And so what I did is I wanted to create a way that we as designers who maybe are more visual, we don't want to write a three page essay, you know, was there a way that we could in an embodied way that we could do a positionality to statements? And then I took 12 elements that people sometimes would write about or think about in a positionality statement and put them, placed them in the circle and would have people either individually or in a group identify or reflect on those 12 elements of their identity. So it's race, gender, age, where people were born, the languages that they speak, their education, and a whole lot of other things that I should emphasize that the elements that you reflect on of your identity will actually change from place to place. So, you know, when I did the positionality wheel once, I led a positionality activity right in the city where Fred is in Curitiba. You know, people ask: Well, how, why didn't I include religion or political values? And I said, well, actually, religion never really came into question in the place that I originally designed the wheel for. And so that's why it wasn't there, right. And and so, you know, people might reflect on different elements of the identities in different contexts. But the idea is that our position in the world affects everything that we do, but we actually don't see that position until we really stopped to reflect on it. So that's the position as well as one tool to support that. And other people have interesting tools as well. But yeah, it's one tool to make people reflect on their position in the world and then start a discussion about how that might affect the work that they want to do in in design or in research in general.

Lee Moreau
The reason I think it's so important in design is to Alicia's point, we make things, right. So like designers are the source of so many of the kind of material changes that happen on the planet. And this, this naturally inflects them. So I, I really appreciate the model.

Frederick van Amstel
Yeah, I would like to add that to what you just said. We're not just making things. We are also making ourselves and positionality wheel and other approaches, they really help us to become aware, self-aware of selves or even self-conscious about this process of making ourselves while making things for others. And we always imbue our values and also the habits, the cultures, the contradictions that we live in and experience in our life into the things that we put into the world. And as much as we understand where we are grabbing things, these things out and expressing them as mu-as deep as we can to contribute to our culture. And I would say that this is probably an overlooked issue in design education. We don't usually think about design education as being citizen training. We think about professional training. But before being a professional, you are a citizen in the world and understanding your place there and the history of that place and what you can do there, besides being a professional, before that, you also are responsible for so many other things and learning about your own positionality and need to relate-its relation to the material culture and, for example, to the material privileges and positionality wheel, we have a-a tried here as well, but we also emphasized the material privilege that you get from your position there. And for example, does did you ever had such a kind of ergonomic chair that you are sitting right now? Or which kind of a design have you had you have access to throughout your life. And this impacts amd limits the kind of person you can make ourselves because you make yourself based on the materials that are around you and the design of things or even then the un-designed things like the gambiarras that I was mentioned at the beginning of a conversation. If you make yourself out of a gambiarra, can you really become a designer? Or which kind of designer will you become? If you design based on gambiarra and then you make a statement — Look, this is still design. This kind of more broad in design educationn is pretty much needed right now because, as Lesley-Ann mentioned, there are not many jobs, self secured jobs for all students, but there are definitely a society in need of people that can handle these harsh contradictions and they can create other roles for being society, which is not necessarily the professional role. For example, the activist that Alicia wa-was mentioned. This is also a great way of being a designer in the world.

Alicia Cheng
As I think that the the roles don't have to be that clearly defined. It's not like you're an activist or not an activist type of thing, but I think what you're speaking of and I think as you know, having a probably mostly like younger students, it's that experience of how to calibrate, how to use those tools. You know, like you are always trying to bring your full self to every project you do. But in terms of there's a client relationship with a lot of commercial work and they're the ones that give you the brief that you respond to. And if you insert yourself in and then gets maybe dismissed because that's not what they want. I think recognizing that that doesn't mean rejection per say, that maybe that lives somewhere else for someone else, for yourself. So I think just sort of keeping that, you know, it's consistent hope alive that you can still manage to still be your own person and your own designer and maintain your voice. But sometimes one has to learn how to listen to the room, make the money, like get the job done. But that doesn't mean it should come at the expense of your own identity and your goals.

Lee Moreau
Design is, through this conversation, design is moving. Design is evolving. It's an action. It's a verb, right? We've kind of also established that culture is also moving and. Is evolving and forming and we're and we're a party to that. Where do we see the future of the relationship between design and culture? Where are we going?

Lesley-Ann Noel
I mean, to sound really hackneyed, I think about this pluriverse — in a world of many worlds, and I think about social change. These are the two buzzwords that I use, buzz-phrases that I use all the time. But, you know, when I think of this question of how design meets, shapes, or interacts with culture, and that's a very anthropological, I think, type of question. And a lot of the work that we do as designers is anthropological. So, you know, maybe it's continuing that — one of us used, it's not me, one of you use the word curiosity at some stage, you know, and-and you know, it's us maintaining that curiosity and recording, documenting, supporting, being part of this culture and creating culture. And, you know, I think that that's what we continue to do in the future. But you also are asking, like, what does it need to change? I think maybe what I would utopically like to see change is I think sometimes when we talk about design and culture, it sounds a lot like this remote thing and, you know, high culture that that idea of, again, maybe framing culture or, you know, helping people to see culture and the future I would like to see is, is that maybe designers coming down, right up and down is kind of these aren't great terms, but you know that it's coming closer to meeting that popular culture, right? Or becoming part of that popular culture in the future.

Alicia Cheng
I would also say that, you know, a sort of concern, in terms of who endorses elements of design as a practice. So I totally agree with efforts to be as expansive and inclusive as possible, empowering students to understand that they are part of a broader rubric that allows them to be- call themselves designers. And yet, on the flip side, I feel like you have a lot of people are like: Oh, I love design, so I can "blank" or whatever. So there's a lot of people in our space and not to at all sound exclusionary, but I wonder, just wonder, where those those thresholds are. Are there thresholds? If they're not, how do those of us who—you know, is school the only mandate for what terms, a design or what? You know, definitionally there's a lot of degrees out there that have the word design in them. Does that make people a designer? What is that now? So I think the blurring of the lines are excellent, but it also has its you know, there's we won't know exactly, but I think we are seeing a much more pervasive use of the term and we see it as an empowerment and being able to sit at more tables. But I just wonder if the next step may be somewhat of a recalibration potentially, but where those metrics and parameters lie, I do not know.

Lee Moreau
I don't think there's a universal definition of design that exists that looks anything like what we would have seen a few decades ago, or certainly when I was in school. Terry Irwin at Carnegie Mellon said something to me recently, and she might have been quoting Herbert Simon or somebody else, but it was sort of like, yeah, you know, we all design, but some of us do it professionally. And I was like, okay, you know, that is a distinction that is helpful on some level. Just, you know, if you're doing it for others, that already is a it's sort of a leap that one has to take.

Alicia Cheng
Maybe it goes back to the making things part, you know.

Lee Moreau
And you know, and for whom. Yes. Or with whom. And of course, that could be a whole other conversation, which maybe we should have in a second. So this is a bit of an experiment. One part of the experiment is having multiple people on a podcast and try to frame a conversation. We're doing this remotely, we're all in literally different parts of the world and to try to have this synthetic dialog. But one of the bigger questions I have is I want to make sure that— or how can we ensure that we're not having the same old design conversation that we would had before? Are we just repeating old territory? Like what— is there a sense of progress? So we were talking about redefining design or what that means or what are the limits? How do we feel about that?

Alicia Cheng
Yeah, I mean, I think it's so much about communication and being able to have the dialog from very different perspectives and all that that means. And I love the idea that it's shaping towards design and designers within that rubric as a collective. We're not always going the same way per say, but we are a collective in spirit and in practice and in, and, you know, so I think there is alignment, even though we want to make sure that there's room for every individual. So I appreciate that's how that seems to be where we're poised and forums like this can enable those discussions.

Lesley-Ann Noel
Yeah, and, and to the question, are we asking the same questions or having the same conversations, the answer might be yes. I think the answer is often yes to that because we do have to have the same conversations and ask the same questions. You know, some of the questions we asked today are the same questions that we were asking 30 years ago when I was a student and probably 60 years ago, and my my professors were students. But every time we ask these questions, we come away with a new configuration of ideas that we can then act on in some way and then ask the same question again next week.

Alicia Cheng
You know, what will the questions be in 20 years? That's another one. So I think the questions have changed, and I don't think we're retreading too much. I think there's much more reaction of what I think, again, of being broad, may not have been as probing or as self-examining— the level of self-examination is different now than it was before. And again, I don't know what we all are terming before, but I think we have a sense. So I do feel like the questions are different now.

Lee Moreau
Well, I think if we would have talked about design having, you know, the beginning of this conversation was designed as a seat at the table, There's a sense that there's an altitude at which design is playing that is different than it was before it.

Lesley-Ann Noel
Well, I think that that's a question that we will repeat forever and ever and ever and it is that the table may change. The way the table is configured, might change, you know, or the context might change. Like, so when I was a student in Brazil or when I lived in Trinidad, the question again might have been the same question does design have a seat at the table? But actually it's a different question, does that make sense, you know, because the context is different, right? So it's what I say, that it's the same questions that we will continue to ask, I think that, yes, we will ask these questions over and over again. We will ask from now till eternity what is design and will ask questions like who should design? But the way that we respond to the questions will be different.

Lee Moreau
If I'm hearing you right, to some degree, we have permission to redefine the context and we all are agreeing that that's an acceptable thing to say, which probably is relatively new.

Lesley-Ann Noel
Yeah, I think it's great to ask the same questions, actually, I don't think that there's any issue with that. And like Alicia said, there'll be different questions as well, which we will also ask because things have changed and reconfigured and we've and we've thought about things differently and that will encourage us to ask different questions as well.

Frederick van Amstel
If we are having the dialog, we are already undoing an unlearning the way you have been taught design and the way we have seen in conferences and and in magazines where someone is talking and others are just listening a monologue, basically. And we had this marvelous horizontal circle all around the world dialog here that is already hinting onto the new avenues that designing are going towards, the plurivirsality concept that Lesley-Ann is pushing forth in the community is really all about this, or listening more than talking and and being part of a collective that's trying to figure out something that is always ahead of itself. We can never define which worlds are in the pluriverse. That's why we say many, and we can never define all this the concepts of culture we have many, and also concepts of design, and that's fine. And then throughout this this dialog, we make sense of it and know no one of us have a full picture of it, and that's also fine. And then we keep having these discussions and we get engaged with the discussion because we know that we won't ever know alone. And then there's always an opening for the next conversation. The next other gathering, right?

Alicia Cheng
Yeah.

Lesley-Ann Noel
Yeah.

Lee Moreau
Thank you so much. I mean, this was really a great conversation. Thank you so much for taking time out of your very busy schedules at the beginning of semesters and all kinds of other things to spend time in this conversation. I'd love to just hear what you're up to and give you a chance to kind of like tell us how you like this to learn more about you.

Alicia Cheng
I'm really not on Instagram so much, but, you know, we're doing a lot of activity here at the museum, so there's always something to see. So you can always visit the Met when you are in New York.

Lee Moreau
0Thank you. And Lesley-Ann, where can we find out more about you? And tell us about your book!

Lesley-Ann Noel
Okay. So I am kind of easy to find on Instagram and LinkedIn. And yes, I have a book coming out in-at the end of November. It is called Design Social Change: Take Action, Work toward Equity, and Challenge the Status Quo, at the end of November. In that book, people will kind of see what some of the conversations in my contemporary issues class are about, because it is about getting people to think about the world. It's about kind of building collective change, getting people to look at themselves first and understand what they're bringing to issues, letting them reflect on the issues that they're passionate about, and then having them dream about worlds that they want to build. Because again, that's what we do as designers. We make things and things include worlds and then find other people to build these worlds with them. So I hope people enjoy it.

Lee Moreau
Fantastic. Congratulations there. Frederick. How can we find out more about you?

Frederick van Amstel
You can generally find my social network profiles directly in my personal website, which is Fred Van Amstel dot com. But what I'm up to, well, I'm up to moving to the U.S. Soon I'm going to become associate professor of University of Florida.

Lee Moreau
Congratulations. And you can keep up with me Lee Moreau at other tomorrows dot com or on LinkedIn.

Lee Moreau
Design As is a podcast from Design Observer. To keep up with the show, go to design observer dot com slash design as or subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts. And if you like what you heard today, please make sure to rate and review us and share it with your friends. You can follow Design Observer on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter at Design Observer. Design As is brought to you this season by MasterCard. Thanks again to our brilliant roundtable, Lesley-Ann Noel, Alicia Cheng and Frederick van Amstel. You can find out more about them in our show notes at Design Observer dot com slash design as, along with a full transcription of the show. Our producer is Adina Karp. Judybelle Camangyan edits the show. Special thanks to Grupo Onion in Brazil, Meghan Gerald and Jason Gillikin in Raleigh at Earfluence, and Maxine Philavong here at Northeastern University. Our music is by Joshua Brown. Thanks, as always to Design Observer founder Jessica Helfand and to Design Observer executive producer Betsy Vardell.


Posted in: Design As




Jobs | February 27