11.30.23
Jamer Hunt, Manuel Lima, Ellen McGirt, and Lee Moreau | Audio

Design As S1E3: Complexity Part 1


On this episode, Jamer Hunt, Manuel Lima, Ellen McGirt, and Lee Moreau discuss complexity and design.

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.

Jamer Hunt is founding director of the graduate program in Transdisciplinary Design at Parsons School of Design (2009-2015). From 2016-2021 he served as Vice Provost for Transdisciplinary Initiatives at The New School. With Paola Antonelli at the MoMA he was co-creator of the award-winning, curatorial experiment and book Design and Violence (2013-15).  He is also  the author of Not to Scale: How the Small Becomes Large, the Large Becomes Unthinkable, and the Unthinkable Becomes Possible (2020), a book that repositions scale as a practice-based framework for navigating social change in complex systems.

Manuel Lima is a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and currently Global Head of Design at Interos Inc, prior to which held positions including Head of Google Cloud Datavis and Sr. UX Design Manager at Google, Design Director at Codeacademy, and Sr. UX Design Lead at Microsoft. He is the author of many books covering information visualization and visual culture including: The Book of Trees: Visualizing Branches of Knowledge, The Book of Circles: Visualizing Spheres of Knowledge, Visual Complexity: Mapping Patterns of Information, and The New Designer: Rejecting Myths, Embracing Change (2023).

Ellen McGirt is an author, podcaster, speaker, community builder, award-winning journalist and Editor in Chief of Design Observer. She established the inclusive leadership beat at Fortune in 2016 with raceAhead, an award-winning newsletter on race, culture, and business. Her great love remains long-form feature writing — the Fortune, Time, Money, and Fast Company alumna has published more than twenty cover stories across her twenty-year career. She is currently a contributing editor at Design Observer, where she co-hosted The Design Of Business | The Business of Design podcast for three seasons, and the co-host of an upcoming documentary podcast on capitalism with Scene On Radio.



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. This season, we're going to focus on three key words as prompts: culture, citizenship, and for today, we'll focus on complexity. We're going to interrogate and problematize design's new role in the world. And I think, you know, honestly, if you think about it, we've been asking for a seat at the table for a long time as designers, and maybe you could argue in the last couple of decades, we've kind of got it, right. The question is, what do we do now?

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.mastercard.com and search for design jobs.

Lee Moreau
This is part one of a two part conversation about complexity. I'm Lee Moreau, the founding director of Other Tomorrows, a design innovation studio based in Boston and a professor of practice and design at Northeastern University. Also, our dedicated Design Observer listeners might also recognize my voice as the host of The Futures Archive, which is a podcast from Design Observer that looks at the history of human centered design with a critical eye towards its future. With me in conversation today is Jamer Hunt. Hi, Jamer—

Jamer Hunt
Hi, Lee. Thanks for the invitation to be around your table.

Lee Moreau
Thanks for being here. Jamer is the founding director of the Graduate Program in Transdisciplinary Design at Parsons School of Design. From 2016 to 2021, he served as the vice provost for transdisciplinary initiatives at The New School, and he's the author of Not to Scale: How the Small Becomes Large, The Large Becomes Unthinkable and the Unthinkable Becomes Possible. A book that repositions scale as a practice based framework for navigating social change and complex systems. Next to him, virtually on my Zoom screen here, is Ellen McGirt. Hi, Ellen.

Ellen McGirt
Hey, Lee, It's great to be with you.

Lee Moreau
Thank you for being here. Ellen's an award winning business journalist. She established the inclusive leadership beat at Fortune in 2016 with raceahead, a newsletter on race, culture and business. Her great love remains long form feature writing, the Fortune, Time, Money and Fast Company alumna has published more than 20 cover stories across her 20 year career. She's currently a contributing editor at Design Observer, where she co-hosted the Design of Business | The Business of Design Podcast for three seasons. And to complete our roundtable, here is Manuel Lima calling in from Portugal. Hi, Manuel.

Manuel Lima
Hi Lee. Thanks for having me.

Lee Moreau
Manuel is a fellow at the Royal Society of Arts and currently global head of design at Interos. Prior to which Manuel held positions, including head of Google Cloud data Visualization and senior UX design manager at Google, Design Director at Code Academy, and Senior UX Design Lead at Microsoft. He's the author of many books covering information, visualization and visual culture. His latest book is The New Designer: Rejecting Myths, Embracing Change. Welcome, everyone.

Jamer Hunt
Good morning, Lee. It's great to see you again. Thanks for the invite.

Ellen McGirt
Hey, Lee, how are you doing?

Manuel Lima
It's a pleasure. It really is.

Lee Moreau
Where this conversation starts, I think, to some degree is that complexity has seemed like the final frontier for design in many ways and maybe the final frontier for everything. We've known for a long time that combining systems thinking and design was ultimately the way forward. There are indications that that's where things needed to go. If you look at postwar thought, including cybernetics, different ways of framing the world, there was a sort of convergence toward complexity and the importance of understanding and grappling with it. But we really struggle to have the tools for dealing with this. And sometimes it seems like we're just flying blind. So I want to throw that out there as like, how does that depiction of where we are feel to you as sort of a starting place for the conversation? Is complexity the obvious thing that we need to be dealing with with design? Manuel I'm going to direct this at you to some degree because I think your new book, The New Designer, is almost framed as a designer's guide to managing complexity.

Manuel Lima
I think. Absolutely. And I go back to actually my very first book called Visual Complexity. So right on theme. And, you know, in that book, I actually mentioned the work of Warren Weaver, which is this American scientists that divided sort of like the recent scientific endeavors into sort of like three stages, right, covering the century, you know, 17, 18 and 19th century. Most scientists, perhaps many designers as well back then, were trying to understand problems of simplicity, like how one single thing effects the other. Moving towards the beginning of the first half, I would say of the 20th century, people really understood that there's a lot more variables going on. It's much more complex. But they thought it was fairly chaotic and random, right? What they called, what Weaver considers to be problems of disorganized complexity. But then at some point in mid 20th century, we realized that these problems are actually not chaotic, not random at all, right. they actually have a very sort of common pattern to them, which Weaver considers to be problems of organized complexity. It's this seemingly complex thing that actually is quite simple. If we look at the sort of the micro scale, because these are very simple interactions, just interacting at a really large scale and nature is abundant of complex systems like that. And a complex system is by definition that, so it might seem immensely complex. But if you zoom in, it starts with very simple interactions, very simple connections between things, but then it becomes this massively a system that's all interdependent and all interconnected. So I think it's not just a challenge for design, certainly it is for design, and I appeal for that in the book, in my latest book that I think the designer of the future needs to be a system thinker at heart, absolutely. We have to embrace complexity, science and really think about systems and maybe just I would wrap up by a bit of a maybe a contentious point, which is we actually use the word system in design quite often, but I think it lacks a tremendous amount of ambition because when designers, for the most part, talk about the word system, they mention a UI system, right? Which is like all about the consistency, which is still valid concern. But I think we need to be much bolder, much more ambitious in our approach to what systems really are and look at the entire planet as really our canvas, really the system that we should be tackling and embracing.

Lee Moreau
It's almost framing systems as only an output, but not as an input,

Manuel Lima
Yes.

Lee Moreau
It's a little bit convenient, right, for designers to kind of frame the world like that.

Manuel Lima
It's actually quite simplistic and I think it lacks a tremendous lack of ambition, which I think it's a problem.

Ellen McGirt
That was really wonderful and it dovetails with what I've been thinking quite a bit about in my own work and in my own journalism and just in my life is the moment when complexity becomes personal for the non designer, for the people who are in the system. The moment when an individual realizes that they're, you know, a node in a data set that is owned by somebody else and benefits somebody else, they make the time and the emotional and intellectual bandwidth to really think through what that means for them. And my example is I look back at this and I cannot believe it was me. I was one of the first journalists to report inside Facebook after transitioned away from being a college only application, which meant I was literally the oldest person on Facebook. Like not a single person I knew was using the platform. It was—Mark Zuckerberg had just turned 20 years old and my only friends were Facebook employees because you can't show up at Facebook, at somebody- not having driven their car use their product. So they're like, fine we'll be your friend. But as a result, I was the only person or one of the few journalists who was presented with a serious briefing on the social graph. Now, if I had had Jamer and Manuel with me whispering in my ear, I would have navigated that better. I would have asked better questions. I was clearly smart enough to be worried about personal safety. I didn't want to, you know, let people know that I wasn't home, that it was not safe, or as a woman traveling alone, I had safety concerns about that. But it took such a series of interrelated and deadly issues related to Facebook's power, for people who were not part of the design system of Facebook or not thinking about complexity in this way to understand what they were actually capable of as they became bigger and bigger and they grew. Unchecked harassment, political disinformation, and obviously in places where they were the only access to the Internet, bad actors could do terrible, terrible things. So I think a lot about now what it means to have complexity made visible for the average person and what that means generationally, what kinds of decisions people are going to make about participating in sharing their data and sharing their spirit in these bigger systems. But I see the moment as people understand at least, what it means to be vulnerable to systems as a huge opportunity for designers with ethics, with empathy, with all the things that I know that you care about to really think through. What does it mean to design with people and with vulnerable communities? So I'm excited about that. Even if I contributed early on to people not fully understanding what Facebook could be in the very beginning.

Jamer Hunt
I think Manuel opened a door, I want to crash through it a little bit in the framing of systems and complexity, because I think we have a tendency to really frame this often in technocratic terms, in technological terms, in sort of mechanistic terms. And well, that's certainly important. And I think a lot of the challenges that we face in this moment come through those kind of technological systems. I always think in sort of threes when it comes to systems that we have technological systems, but we also have social systems, and we have biological systems. And so we need to recognize that complexity manifests across all of those as the other guests have talked about. And it's really, you know, we've been dealing with complexity in other kinds of ways for a long, long time. So love and hate are forms of complexity within social systems. And we work through those, through literature, through conversation, through family relationships, things like that. And so there's a tendency, I think, sometimes to sort of start thinking about complexity only from, you know, sort of the cybernetic revolution and things like that. And and certainly for scientific systems and for systems thinking, a lot started around that time. But I'd really like to kind of open the aperture a little bit wider and just recognize that in many ways, you know, the complexity that we face, we deal with in lots of other ways than technocratic ones. And so something like the kind of, I don't know, politically generated hatred that now seems to exist rampantly is a problem of social complexity. And yes, of course there are technological components to it that excelerate it. But I also think that, you know, we have to recognize it as a socially generated condition as much as it is technologically generated one. If we forget those other biological and social systems and only focus on some of the technological. I think we miss a huge part of the story and a huge part of the history of how we've dealt with this. In our sort of recency bias we like to think that every problem is new. And yet I sometimes think that these issues of complexity can be very old. It's just that we don't see them that way because sometimes they don't manifest in, you know, wires and photons and things like that. They manifest in emotions or they manifest in rivers. So I just want to open that door a little bit wider and make sure that we're thinking through complexity in all these different levels, because otherwise I feel like the conversation gets hijacked by the same people who are building these systems that create harm and that they're shaping the conversation and limiting it. They're creating the boundaries for it so that we can't escape their framing of the world that we're building. And I'd like to sort of break down those boundaries.

Manuel Lima
I like that a lot Jamer, and thanks for bringing that up. Again, going back to the work of Weaver, which I'm a huge fan — it's actually a pretty small paper that he wrote, but I think it touches like so many great points. And when he says that in now and in the future, the major challenge we all have is understanding problems of organized complexity. I think it touches both the natural biological systems, like many of the ecosystems that are around our planet, but also a lot of the new technological systems that Ellen mentioned. We could talk about those alone for four hours. And I think one of the roles that I would love for design to have is really demystifying the notion that things are simple or like the simple narratives. I think simple narratives can be extremely dangerous, right?

Ellen McGirt
Yes.

Manuel Lima
So every big problem we have today, from poverty to like climate change to, like you name it, any single big, big, massive issue is not simple. There's not one single person. It's never black or white. It's a very intricate process going on. And if you change something here, you will not have the end results inside. It's-it's there's multiple levers. There's multiple factors at play constantly. And we need to understand, I think design has a huge role. And and even going back to my previous books and the discipline that I'm so fond of, data visualization, I think that of his position, if I look back at its most grandiose sort of achievement, was really showing these systems that for the most part are invisible. People don't perceive them in a material way and showing how complex it is.

Ellen McGirt
Right.

Manuel Lima
And it's not just to scare people off, but it's to demystify this notion of a linear narrative that, hey, if you do this, you know, this is the culprit, a single culprit that's go after that that person or that institution, or —there's never one answer for some of these big, massive problems. I go back to this other example of-of-of the codfish industry that was dying off. This was like two decades ago in Canada. You can look it up, this is pretty scary stuff. But the government of Canada decided to actually kill thousands and thousands of seals because seals apparently are the main predator of the codfish, right, not humans. We're not- we don't even consider none of that. But it's just the seal, right? So let's go after the seal. And they killed thousands and thousands of these animals. And until a zoologists came up and say: Hey, you know what, I'm actually going to do, let's change the perspective here. And he actually mapped out all 100 species that interact with the codfish. And he came to the conclusion that, yes, the codfish population was decreasing primarily because of overconsumption on our part on humans, but it was actually another subset of species that cod was feeding from, that it was dying for a whole different set of reasons.

Ellen McGirt
Hmm.

Manuel Lima
And this is just another example that even again, going back to Jamer's point, like we look at nature sometimes, even in a very simplistic way, which is a huge mistake because ecosystems are not the simple predator versus prey diagrams that we learned at school, that, you know, the rabbit eats the carrot and so on. It's immensely complex and we need to embrace- we need to embrace first that complexity, visualize that complexity to then affect change in a positive way.

Jamer Hunt
I just want to jump in and say that-that because of the growth in the seal population now great white sharks have been coming up the Atlantic seaboard and I now live in tremendous fear of getting into the ocean because those seals.

Ellen McGirt
Shark center design.

Manuel Lima
That's complex systems, one thing-that one thing causes the other...

Jamer Hunt
I used to see one seal like a quarter of a mile out, now they come by, they parade 15ft from the shore, right where we're swimming. And of course, the great white sharks come in to trap them there. So yeah, I've got some issues with the whole seal thing.

Lee Moreau
But Jamer, I think that actually that's very much a part of this conversation because that sharkHas a social media account, right?

Jamer Hunt
Yes. Right, right.

Lee Moreau
I mean, that individual shark that somebody saw.

Ellen McGirt
Is running for Congress. That shark is running for Congress as a ca- that shark can get the job done.

Jamer Hunt
And has more Twitter followers than I do.

Lee Moreau
I mean, that is part of the complexity that we're dealing with.

Jamer Hunt
Yeah.

Lee Moreau
You know, the problem is, to some degree, one of the problems I would say is that that, you know, that shark with a social media account becomes a big, big story when in fact, it's just it's the simple version that Manuel was talking about, right. So we reduce something really complex into a shark with a social media account. And that's a simple thing. But that's not the point. And so I think apprehension or being able to see these systems, we talked about visualization, that is fundamental to this, because until we can see these things and really talk about and describe it, there's nothing we can do about it. So I think part of what design's responsibility is, is to make things visible so that we can then engage that sort of apprehension has to proceed action.

Ellen McGirt
What is special or what happened to the three of you that helped you get to a place where you could be comfortable living it with complexity, looking at complexity, not having the answer, not knowing the way forward is that that was sort of the the point in the early when I first started was there have been moments I have observed people being willing to sit with the enormity of the systems around them. And that's usually when it becomes personal to them. And that's if you're unusually oriented to showing up for other people, that you're unusually community oriented, where you can see the ripple effects of simple things impacting other people and you decide to care about them, and you decide to care about people who are different from you. And that's, you know, Manuel, I was going back to your Ted Talk and I was enjoying it earlier this week and looking at an org chart which, he presented, which I haven't I that's the world as a business journalist, I live in the world of org charts, but I was looking at it through new eyes. The average person does not see a role for themselves in an org chart except to do violence to the person who might get into the spot ahead of them. That's it. That's what capitalism does. We live in a world where people don't get paid to not know, to not provide answers, to not provide solutions. But the idea that you three became comfortable with this as a field of study, as a field of inquiry, it settles into your bones as this is the right way to look at the world. These are the conversations we should be having, means to me that you have insights on how to become comfortable with all the things that complexity brings with that which includes meaning and beauty and death and progress or comfort, you know, whatever that is. Developing a seal- centered design practice, right. I thought I'd throw it back to you three beautiful people. How can the rest of us living our lives as stakeholders in a broader universe become comfortable with not knowing?

Manuel Lima
Yes, Ellen, that was a beautiful question. And I think it's really a question that I think we should ask many, many humans really, because I think at its core, it's human nature and that's why it's so hard to fight against it. But I really think it's about you learning to become comfortable in the absence of an easy answer. Because guess what? Whenever now I see an easy answer for a problem, like a big problem, I just I really always take it with a grain of salt because I know it's not that simple. And yes, it's challenging because again, we as humans, we want an easy answer. You know, we look for answers even when they don't exist. You know, conspiracy theories happen because of this, because in the absence of information, in the absence of knowledge, we make up something. We need an easy answer always. And we need, as it turns out, a lot of these natural systems and a lot of the new systems we humans are creating — AI, you know, social networks, etc., etc — they're not simple. They are immensely challenging to understand. But I think what we we have to avoid at the same time and you know, going back to Lee's point, I think it's our responsibility to make these systems visible again to did mystify this idea of of simplicity. But also we cannot go to the other side, which is people get easily scared of complexity at the same time saying: Wow, this is too much for me, I cannot handle this right. So there is some sort of like a line that design has to take a dance right between this idea of like the mystifying simplicity, but not going completely overboard to a point where people actually get scared, become numb. We have a challenge like even in that visualization, which a lot of charts, especially when it comes to human tragedies, for example, people just become numb to charts. It just, oh, just another chart, Just another statistic. It's just another big number on the screen. How does that matter really to me is on the other side of the world. So I think this challenge of like invoking empathy, right, and leading to action, I think Lee was mentioning this, is not just about making the system visible, but also like how can you affect change? How can you lead with action that actually could affect something positive? Right. So I think that is a huge challenge that I think that we have to face. But again, we have to embrace it. It's absolutely our duty and responsibility.

Jamer Hunt
Yeah. And Ellen, I love that question and I have a really dull answer to it.

Ellen McGirt
I love dull answers. I love them.

Jamer Hunt
But hopefully I can bring it some more and more interesting because actually when you when you asked that, I immediately flashed back to the sort of exact time and place where I had sort of an epiphany that I was in graduate school, I was studying, I was doing a doctoral degree in anthropology, and there was a tension because I was in a very experimental program and a lot of people wanted to learn kind of the canonical like the social theory, and they weren't teaching that and students were kind of upset and we're doing all this weird stuff instead. And I remember thinking that, you know, everybody wanted to kind of master social theory. They wanted to like have it tucked away somewhere comfortable. And once they knew that they could kind of move on. And meanwhile, I was reading all this other kind of weird stuff that was much more interesting to me. And I remember in that moment kind of recognizing that there was no way I was ever going to know enough. And there were sort of two options. I could either suffer forever trying to kind of learn enough or I could adopt sort of the opposite approach, which is you never know enough. You're always sort of floating, drifting in this kind of chaos. And if you could get comfortable with that and somehow I kind of sense that that's what the world was like. I think I was too young to know that that's what the world was like. But somehow I sort of sensed that the world was that way, that if you could sort of get comfortable with that floating, that that might provide a different way of looking at. You know, in this case, knowledge, which I was trying to sort of build in graduate school. And so I really remember that moment and I don't know why I remember it, except that it has been absolutely one of the most significant insights that I took away from my entire education, I think, and its implications for me are really radical. Not that I live up to those implications, but just to even think about sort of my practice in the classroom and what teaching is. And so if you step into the classroom with the idea that no one really has any greater understanding of the world than anybody else, and that we're in this together exploring whatever the topic of the class is and that the teacher's role is not to know more and impart that knowledge, but is to provide a sort of rich learning environment. Well, then it really changes what you do in the classroom. At least for me, it's really changed what I do in the classroom because it's also revealed the power inequities within the classroom, the ways in which authority gets built. You know, all of these things that kind of stem from a different way of approaching knowledge or the world, which is like, I know enough, I know more, I know more than you. But when you are simply kind of both mesmerized and unsure of the world, it really provides a different way of approaching what learning can be. And so that kind of insight for me was really critically important because I think it's you know, I've I've written essays on, you know, the unknown unknowns. Like this thread has continued throughout my life, including now, you know, it's precisely because I've found that all the systems, all the organizations around me want to resist not knowing. And they want to know. And they want to claim an authority, a position, certainty, etc.. And I just don't get it. I've lost-I've lost the thread on the idea that you can kind of, you know, know more than someone else or understand something better than someone else. And I'm much more interested in how you and I relate and that I'm going to learn more from that than I'm who has more book knowledge or whatever it might be. So in really interesting ways, I think, and I'm not exactly sure how that all ties to complexity, but I think it's just a really interesting opening. And I want to know for you, when you sort of first saw this or when, you know, did you have kind of a moment that you really started to realize that? Because it felt to me like almost like a paradigm shift, you know, it's just like a whole new way of seeing the world and wondered for you kind of if you had a moment like that.

Ellen McGirt
Yeah, that was a beautiful answer. It was a joyful answer, and it made me think of a lot of things. Just listeners, I just want you to know that I'm here with three very handsome men bursting with health, you know, all of those kinds of privileges that come with, you know, getting access to, you know, the Googles and the the Parsons of the world and, you know, all of those good things. And I come to this as a person who was born in a very in a different body, you know I'm a black woman, and I've been wandering around the world just trying to get in a lot of places. And to your point, Jamer, I brought a lot of un—when I was younger after college— I brought a lot of unnecessary bravado and certainty to every interaction I had. And I struggled, you know, I cringe when I look back at how defensive I often felt or how I needed to seem like I was the expert because I was concerned about all of the trappings of privilege and power that I was just never going to be able to embody. And I was wrong. So, so profoundly wrong. Like three times in a row. I'll give you just one example. This was this is a I was I had been a writer for a while and I was, you know, doing all these other things. And I was working for a offshoot of AOL, which was then a big deal thing to have...

Manuel Lima
Not any more.

Ellen McGirt
on your resumé. And a woman called me up as like: Oh, Ellen you're awesome. And it's like we are developing a new business and we're wondering, you know, we're getting people to put in their-their hat in the ring for it to run this business, going to be a multi-million dollar line of business, slightly different from what you do. I said: Oh, tell me all about it. Like she had a beeper. Like that's like the era of technology that we were working in. And she said, Ellen, it is,It's a it's a new thing, there's a website that's relatively new called Match, and it helps people, you know, find dates and love online. And I, I as the higher power of your choice as my judge, I leaned over at that lunch, I may have even put my hand on her arm. And I said: Honey, no one is going to be looking for love online. There's no one. Looking back I turned out to be so profoundly wrong, and it was about three other things in a row that way. And that was the moment when I said: okay, I am bringing a level of certainty to the world that I have not earned, and that is not true. And instead of saying, No, that's not going to work or you don't know what you're doing, I'm going to say yes, tell me more. And that decision changed my life. It got me into some, you know, avenues that weren't that's great for me, but it changed my life as a journalist. It helped me be a better writer. It help me be a better human and community member because I was actually listening to people differently once I dropped that veneer. So I wish I had had it earlier in my life. But once I got there saying learning to say yes, tell me more and thank you for sharing your perspective with me just really changed my life.

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.

Rebecca Havekost
Hi, my name is Rebecca Havekost and I'm the VP of Experience Research and Insights at Mastercard. So I actually came into Mastercard as a product experience designer. The name is changed since when I first joined. And so it was—design was really in its infancy when I joined the company. And I've seen incredible transformation since I became part of the CX and D team back in 2015. So my team, we're all part of customer experience and design, so we're a consolidated capability, if you will. So our collaboration is very natural in the sense that we all come from CX and D and that strong perspective of customer first, the voice of the customer and all of those things. The design community at Mastercard is a mature community, but also still growing and there is room for growth, we're not it's established in in cement, I guess is one way to say it. And since I've been at Mastercard, the design discipline in CX and D has grown exponentially has made a profound impact on the development of products and services. And I think we're still growing. So it's a great place for somebody to come and be able to share their ideas as well.

Cindy Chastain
From new digital payment products 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.mastercard.com and search for design jobs.

Lee Moreau
I think this brings up the topic of who's included in some of these conversations. So, you know, I think complexity because it's a little scary. It's a little paralyzing, maybe when you think about complexity just in abstract, it becomes a bit of a walled garden, right? So there's certain audiences, academics, politicians, etc. People with power and privilege tend to manage or own those conversations and they exclude other folks from those those dialogs, right? Including ones about design. So — and I think this goes back to the sort of design for versus design with conversation. But, you know, this is actually bigger than that, like who's who's having these conversations. So, I guess where I'm-where I'm going with I think there's a certain level of permission that one needs to have to really have a credible conversation about complexity. That's how it seems in the media landscape, right? And I think also because it's a little scary, which is why you I think somebody brought up conspiracy theories earlier, right, so why you have people coming up with crackpot theories because you're not included in the conversation. So you want to have your own conversation on the side, right. So there's large media, small media. I don't know. I'm just kind of trying to unpack this.

Manuel Lima
I go back to what Jamer was saying, and Jamer, you pointing out asking, you know, how does your story relates to complexity? And I think it relates perfectly and yours and Ellen's story, right, because it's all about humbleness. So when you become humble enough that you don't have all the answers and you you will never have all the answers, I think that's a pivotal moment to really embrace complexity because otherwise you cannot. You simply cannot, right. But as we know, the world is filled with people that don't care about how dumb are they just go full on, right. And it's —I love this imposter syndrome, you know, everyone, of course, knows what imposter syndrome is, but most of the people that actually suffer from imposter syndrome tend to be more talented and qualified and skilled people. The ones that are not as skilled and qualified and talented, they never suffer from it because like, they know all the answers. They have it all, you know. And it's it's it has worked for them until now. And they-they become rich by doing what they do best and whatnot. So they think they have all the answers. They think they know it all. And I think that's a recipe for disaster. But unfortunately, again, like who gets the call, who gets the attention, who gets the the say. As we know, those are likely the people that will actually have the power to actually make a lot of the decisions or at least have the visibility to to say whatever they want to say. And that's very unfortunate. And I think people that have that sort of humbleness to them, I think those people tend to be cautious. And this is actually you see this in the scientific community, the whole idea of like climate change, how do we address climate change, how do we communicate climate change — and the scientific community, because again, they are one of those communities that are very careful about what they say because they know they don't have all the answers, right. They are in a constant process of investigation. They are very cautious, you know, they cannot say it's black or white, even though the public wants to hear black or white, even though the public wants to hear like a culprit or one single decision, they know it's it's not as simple. So in the process, right, by trying to communicate, it becomes a bit convoluted and people don't really know what it is, but-which is a challenge of communication itself. But what I mean to say is that people that are extremely humble sometimes have a hard time also articulating, you know, what it is that's happening. And I think we are suffering from this, you know, in the whole climate change catastrophe, because I don't think the scientific community is expressing it in the way that they maybe could.

Lee Moreau
Ellen, you're a journalist.

Ellen McGirt
Yeah. Yeah. That's where you need a humble journalist to help.. And it's it's really hard. I worry about this a lot. The business model of modern journalism does not lend itself to people just spending time trying to understand something. And I, as a long form writer, I used to have it not that long ago where I could walk into a company or a system or, you know, supply chain. Manuel, it must have driven you nuts during Covid that everyone's a supply chain expert all of a sudden — but, you know, to actually become an expert requires the patience and goodwill of the actual experts. You know, creating a foundation of trust where I can ask questions over and over again and check my understanding so that you know, that I'm faithfully recreating in my own voice, in my own words what you're doing and why it's important with skepticism, with-with-with a critical lens to an audience that needs to know in a way that they can absorb. And of course, language is linear. It doesn't really help us fully get there, but it's so, so important. But Lee, your question, too, is, you know, who's not allowed to talk about complexity that gets into a question of power in my mind. You know, speaking in the US and the endless conversations about, you know, welfare and families, it's-we've gotten into such an awful universe on this. But, you know, right somewhere in the U.S. there is a black mother working very hard, single mom, and she's got SNAP benefits on a card, that and she's— and if anybody was willing to take her feedback about what her real life was like and what it was like to navigate the benefits system and the Medicaid system and the you know, she lives in a state that requires her to work certain hours, you know, all of these things which changes day to day. She's not considered a person. You know, the welfare queen framing hangs over her. And there's—we all have many, many examples of vulnerable people who are interacting with systems that are designed around us that we could tell that same story. You know, what does it mean to take her feedback seriously? What does it mean to design with her actual needs in mind, and what does it mean to not? This is something that I've really learned in my reporting more recently for Design Observer. What does it mean to, I'm doing rabbit ears listeners, hide behind jargon that other people are not easily able to understand to keep your position of power.

Manuel Lima
So much. So much of that.

Jamer Hunt
Yeah, and that's exactly. You went exactly where I was going to go, Ellen, in the sense that, you know, power also expertise, credentialed-ism, you know, the extent to which credentials give you the authority to speak on a topic. And that's, you know, a history of privilege of power, the exercise of both. And, you know, I think we really have to radically reimagine what expertise is. And so, you know, when we're talking about the ways in which we understand complex systems, you know, you can you can understand systemic racism by asking a lot of sociologists atuniversities and a lot of them are brilliant. A lot of them are my colleagues. And a lot of them are not brilliant and a lot of them don't know how to, you know, like put their pants on in the morning. And so and yet who better to answer or to think through what systemic racism is than, you know, the working mother that Ellen was just describing who understands those systems, not only intellectually, certainly that's one frame, but also in her body, in her soul, you know, it's a much more complex understanding of complexity. But, you know, it's a much different understanding of complexity than simply being able to talk through a very narrow range of kind of intellectual concepts, which is how most academics work, how most experts work. And so I think we have to really toss out that notion of expertise because it's built upon a sort of false set of assumptions about how one understands the world. And it's through sort of book learning and getting credentials and peer review and all the stuff that universities create. I'm in a university. I believe in what we're doing in a lot of ways, but I also am very critical and skeptical about in the ways in which knowledge gets weaponized. And there's no way in which I can think through complexity, and I love your question, Lee, because there's no way I can think through that and not also think back to sort of, you know, in the 19th century in the ways in which science was trying to sort of overpower nature through its understanding of nature and create dominion over nature. And in so many ways, I think of complexity as just a also a next order of that. It's like, well, we understand relatively simple mechanical systems now. We want to understand the really complex ones like the weather so we can geoengineer it and we can, you know, shoot particles up into clouds so we can change the weather, you know, and all these crackpot ideas that that we've been living through for centuries and we continue to live through, you know, we've got to sort of change that equation somehow or another.

Manuel Lima
Can I just go back to what Ellen was pointing out withthe working mom? I think that's such a great example. And I think it's also like a little bit of a wake up call for for the design community. And I'm super happy that both of you, both Ellen and Jamer, don't have a background in design, because I think design can be extremely snobbish at times and extremely arrogant. And this idea of designing from an ivory tower has to end. Because, you know, this notion of decolonizing design, I think it's absolutely spot on because I like to say that I'm a designer that hates design books, going back to Jamer's point about being interested in so many other disciplines, I always felt this way from a very, you know, even though, yes, I did study design. I'm interested in so many other areas of life, as most of you are, I'm sure. So this idea that, you know, being in an echo chamber, being part of a monoculture is the most scary thing for me, absolutely. Just I think that there's so much evil that can come out of that. But also, like designing in this ivory tower, designing in, just being out of touch with reality, with a working mom, right. And you see this all the time. I've witnessed this, right? I've been in design teams that are far from having the diversity that they should have. And yet here we are a group of of very lookalike individuals creating tools that are used by millions and if not at times, billions of people, right. So the influence that they have is tremendous, right? So I think that is something that does guide me quite a lot, this idea of of arrogance, of and of just design being a little bit lost, in it's way. So I think that's that should be resolved, at some point, I hope.

Ellen McGirt
But first, I'd like to just hold space for all the dopey sociologists out there who do not work with Jamer, are not associated with Parsons or any university or institution that he's associated with, and I hope that they find their way home soon.

Jamer Hunt
Thank you. They might, they might

Lee Moreau
Public service announcement from Ellen. Thank you

Ellen McGirt
So I'm taking notes here. I want to solve the shark problem for Jamer.

Jamer Hunt
The aociologist pants problem.

Ellen McGirt
Yeah. My God, these people, I, I, my heart breaks for them —

Lee Moreau
Join us next time for the second part of our conversation on complexity.

Ellen McGirt
This is happening. It's not your fault, but it is your job. And your job is to notice who is not in the room, not on your team, not in the forest, not represented, and then just ask why.

Jamer Hunt
You know, every industry now has embraced this concept of futures, and I was sort of curious about that. And it felt like it was at one level, you know, just the normal sort of way in which concepts go viral in industry. But at another level, it felt like a weird evasion of the present.

Lee Moreau
I think while maybe the goal shouldn't be to have a seat at the table. I think we're either there or we're close and we better be smart about the way that we use that seat at the table.

Manuel Lima
It's not about being a top down again control in power. It's really about the bottom up approach. I think it's all of us individually having that responsibility to Ellen's point asking the why question.

Lee Moreau
Design As is a podcast from Design Observer to keep up with the show go to design observer.com/designas or subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts. And if you liked 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. Tune in next week to hear more from Jamer Hunt, Ellen McGirt, and Manuel Lima. You can find more about them in our show notes at Design observer.com/designas, along with a full transcription of this show. Our producer is Adina Karp. Judybelle Camangyan edits the show. Special thanks to CDM Studios in New York, Producao Digital Azul in Portugal, and Maxine Philavong at Northeastern University. Our music is by Joshua Brown. Thanks as always to Design Observer founder Jessica Helfand and too Design Observer executive producer, Betsy Vardell.


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