12.07.23
Jamer Hunt, Manuel Lima, Ellen McGirt, and Lee Moreau | Audio

Design As S1E4: Complexity Part 2


On this episode, Jamer Hunt, Manuel Lima, Ellen McGirt, and Lee Moreau finish their discussion on 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. On this show, we're going to problematize and interrogate design's new role in the world. I think many of us as designers have been hoping for a seat at the table for a long time. And for better or for worse, we found that seat, right? We've arrived. But the question is, so now what? What are we going to do with that, that seat at the table? What is our responsibility here?

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 the thriving design community go to careers.mastercard.com and search for design jobs.

Lee Moreau
This is part two of our conversation around complexity. Last week when we spoke, we talked about complexity in terms of inclusion. Who are we designing with and for? How does complexity interact with those conversations? And really— who are we listening to along the way? If you want to hear the whole conversation, please don't start here in this episode. Listeners, go back to part one of this conversation or you're going to miss some really great and really important shark base jokes that I just don't have time to explain right now. Step back and we'll catch up with you 45 minutes later on this episode. Let's quickly reintroduce ourselves before we pick back up. 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 recognize my voice as the host of The Futures Archive, a podcast from Design Observer that looks at the history of human centered design with a critical eye towards its future. With me this morning is Jamer Hunt.

Jamer Hunt
Thanks for the invitation, Lee. My name is Jamer Hunt. I used design to stumble into the unknown. That's what I'm learning. The more that I practice and live within design. I do that from my position as a professor of transdisciplinary design at Parsons School of Design in New York. I was the founding director of the graduate program in transdisciplinary design there. Parsons is part of the New School, so I also served in the Provost office of the New School as program director for university curriculum. So a lot of my work has really been about trying to use design to cross bridges and create bridges between disciplines that don't often work together. I've, you know, been involved in a few books I recently published, Not to Scale, and I've also worked another book with Paola Antonelli called Design and Violence, as well as a visual communication design textbook. So I come to design from outside the field, but now live deep within it.

Lee Moreau
Next up is Ellen McGirt. Tell us a little bit about yourself, I mean, our Design Observer listeners have a pretty good sense of who you are, but tell us a little bit about yourself.

Ellen McGirt
I hope so. I was thrilled to be the co-host of Design of Business | Business of Design podcast for three seasons, and I came to that work in my current identity as a business journalist, and I've been lucky enough to keep working for over two decades, which I now realize is a real privilege. And I've been working very hard to explain complicated things to a mass audience for a long time. For me, that's been financial markets, the health care system, persistent poverty, which I spent quite a bit of time in, in emerging economies, corporate structure and leadership, which is a conversation in of itself and more recently, race and racism. I established the race an inclusive leadership beat at Fortune in 2016, which feels like a lifetime ago. And I'm very happy to be here.

Lee Moreau
Manuel, zooming in, I suppose, from Portugal, thank you so much for being here. And tell us a little bit about what you're up to.

Manuel Lima
What I'm up tp? Well, I'm a designer, writer, a lecturer. I've been sort of involved in working for companies over the past 15 plus years, I guess, getting close to 20 years, big and small. Big like Googles and Microsoft. Small, you know, different start ups. But I also wrote four books now, three of them—my first three books were really focusing on visual culture and data visualization. And my latest one is called The New Designer, and it really focuses on the responsibility and ethics of design, which is a really interesting topic to to maybe approach and maybe even today we get to talk a little bit about that. And I'm fortunate for those books to have taken me really around the world in talking to people, conferences and so on. So it's been-it's been a blessing.

Lee Moreau
Where I think we should start today, which is very much related to part one of our conversation is on the topic of simulation and modeling, which I think is part of this framing of understanding. So I want to talk about how we use systems and models to understand complexity and how sometimes that oversimplification makes us start calling things in different ways. Or there's shorthands for the way that we describe the world, which are really dangerous too. So as part of our attempt to get smart, we're also getting maybe not so smart.

Ellen McGirt
I'm not so sure I know that much to contribute to a conversation about simulation and modeling. I use storytelling as a way to reframe an issue, and I speak to a lot of corporate audiences, particularly post George Floyd murder, who are really looking for some way to demonstrate that they were thinking this through or just a starting point, like how do we think this through? This feels very scary for me. And I start with a long story about fly fishing, which I'm not going to tell now, but it starts with me as a semi cynical New York City raised girl. All of a sudden I find myself out in the woods learning to fly fish, which was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen. You know, the ribbon in the sky of your line. And you're joining this ecosystem already in progress. And it's amazing. And I go to Montana, and I have a favorite trout. Sometimes a bear shows up, sometimes a moose. But through a series of reveals, I begin by saying: You know what's weird? I suddenly noticed that I was the only person of color I saw on the river. Sometimes you run into a woman, but never a black person. And then the big joke is once I saw another black man working at a little tiny brewpub in this town in Montana that we both met eyes and we both thought the other one was in witness protection. Like I just knew it. And then the big reveal is that this is by design, that the national park system in the United States was designed by an actual white supremacist who was very popular. He wrote a book called The Passing of the Great Race, meaning the White race. It was so popular that Teddy Roosevelt wrote a blurb for the book. You know, it really informed eugenics, race based discrimination, all of these things. The national parks were for the refreshing of the spirit of white men and the great migrations happening, you know, all of these things are happening and it still exists. So now at this point, you know, 20 minutes into it, people like, I want Black people to go fishing. I want to go out into the national park — this is terrible. So we're pointing to a shared vision that 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 and then begin to pull the threads.

Manuel Lima
Yeah.

Ellen McGirt
And that that to me was the way that I learned to talk about and really complicated a difficult, painful subject where people get very defensive. Is that it's all around you. It's embedded into the system by design. You didn't design it, but you can redesign it. And that to me has I don't show a lot of charts and graphs, and I do work in a medium that does include them in the kinds of stories that we tell, but that's been—painting a mental picture of a better world where we can all participate. If we take from our perspective the actions that we need to take to make sure everyone is safe and included. And that's really worked for me.

Manuel Lima
Ellen, I love what you just said. I really do. And I will tell you, I think it's asking the question why, and it's why in multiple ways, right. It's if you are working on a team, why are we doing this? Like, what is-who is benefiting from it? How is this being used? Who should be in this team if we are developing for this kind of community? Right. So why, why, why — asking why nonstop. I think your, you know, ethical duty can only go so far as your inquiry, right. You have to ask constantly. So, you know, even with the with the initial premise that that Lee, you pointed out, I would actually challenge you a little bit just because I'm not a huge proponent of us having a seat at the table. I think it's it's a misguided sort of pursuits altogether. First because I've seen several cases where designers have a seat at the table and nothing really changes because as soon as you do have a seat on the table, you just conform to the norm.

Lee Moreau
Mhm.

Manuel Lima
But also, I don't think that's the ultimate pursuit. I think it's it's not about being a top down control in power. It's really about the bottom up approach. I think it's all of us individually having that responsibility to all and asking the why question, right. If-even if you are a very junior designer involved in this AI tool like ask why, why are we doing this? Who's benefiting from this? Like always, how is data being being treated? Like how was it analyzed? Again, just asking why — who should be on this team? There's so many questions for us to ask constantly, and it's our duty as individual nodes. I think, you know, it might seem somehow a little bit naive, but look at any single social movement that really mattered in history started with one single node, one single person asking you a question, right. So it's not impossible. We've done it multiple times.

Ellen McGirt
Mhh.

Manuel Lima
In our history and we will continue to do it. So it's too easy for say, Oh, we cannot do anything, you know, blame the system, blame the people in power. But no, I think we can affect change each and one of us.

Lee Moreau
So Manuel, this could be a conversation for a whole other series of podcast episodes.

Manuel Lima
Sure.

Lee Moreau
I'm going to push back a little bit on your response because I think representation matters. I think just like we need women and we need people of color in the executive level of corporations. I think we also need designers at that level and partly because I believe that a lot of people that are in corporate leadership are actually making design decisions using other tools. It's actually design. So whether you're looking at a spreadsheet and you're making financial manipulations that affect the way a company behaves or works, that has repercussions downstream, and I would love to have a designer in that conversation as opposed to not have a designer. So that's one thing I want to push out. But I do think this has to come from top and bottom. So I totally agree with you that this has to be a grassroots kind of set of questioning that becomes pervasive in our culture of design that can start to kind of move up. But I think while maybe the goal should 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. And as of right now, I think the verdict is still out. I don't think there's a lot of great stories where we can say, Oh, there was a chief design officer of that company and that certainly led to great outcomes. There are maybe a couple of examples, but it's not pervasive. It's not a-it's not a story, I think-we're I mean, Ellen hasn't written that article yet to my knowledge.

Ellen McGirt
No. No, but I haven't been looking. So that is a good question. Where where would a design credential really help in the C-suite and save me the trouble of going through the S&P and the Fortune 500 looking for, you know, the other the one other designer? Right.

Lee Moreau
I do think there's an orientation where designers are thinking about human experience. And I think a lot of what companies offer should affect human experience. And I think, therefore, designers should be in those kind of conversations. It shouldn't just be about companies making more money and and manipulating people to spend.

Ellen McGirt
Oh!

Lee Moreau
Radical oversimplification of what businesses do. But that we have to find a balance.

Jamer Hunt
Yeah, I think I'm going to push back, Lee, on your push back on Manuel. And I think representation matters, but decision making matters more. And so if we've seen one sort of moral hazard from all of the important DEI work, it's the risk of kind of tokenization of having people of color now in kind of at the table, but without resources, without decision making, it can become a kind of empty form of performative politics. And so decision making to me is and even beyond that, access to resources is what really matters when it comes to the table. And, you know, I also I don't want to lose that story that Ellen told about the national park system and fly fishing, because it's also it's occurred to me— I've been thinking a lot about this and it may be controversial in relation to the futures concept, so sorry Lee, but I've been really struck how much the word futures is tossed around in terms of, you know, we have health futures and we have financial futures and we have service futures. And, 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. And I started to think about why are we running from the present? And I think it's because of the complexity of the problems that we face. And I started to think about the ways in which design has been sort of complicit in this constant sort of saying, you know, what's better, I'm pointing towards some future — let's go there, you know, that's going to be better. We promise. It's got to be better because we're working on it. Why wouldn't it be? And so starting to wonder about, like, why aren't we kind of struggling with the present? You know, Donna Haraway has this great line of staying with the trouble. And so one of the things to me is to think about the way in which design has been built around this notion of always sort of jumping to a possible future without grappling with the complexity and the difficulty of the present. And I started to think about it in terms of kind of two movements, and one is the movement for reparations. What does it mean to actually seriously consider in this moment, as many countries have done this through truth and reconciliation committees, etc., but what does it mean to reconcile with the deep roots of systemic racism — Not by saying, let's redesign our bad systems even more, but let's unravel them. Let's really look at those systems and let's stay in the present and unravel those systems. And so I've been thinking of this work as this sort of thought exercise as kind of the anti system, a way of unraveling systems rather than sort of perpetuating systems that maybe systems themselves as they grow and mature are the problem. And if you try and redesign them, you're just keeping them alive. Maybe we have to unravel them. Reparations in some ways is a kind of unraveling of the present systems and helping us to reconcile with a past that we still have not reconciled with. And I don't see running off to the future as the solution to that. I see really staying in the present and recognizing the ways in which 400 years in the United States of inequality have manifest itself in the systems that we've built, that we now have to do the hard work of actually unraveling those systems if we're really going to get to change. And so for me, there's the story that Ellen tells it's so important because, you know, who doesn't love the national park system? Well, scratch the surface. And there's a very, you know, ugly story behind that that we need to know about. And if we don't stick with that moment of her recognition of why she doesn't feel like she belongs there and we don't have smart people digging into that story and revealing, you know, the awful history of that, then I don't see how we're going to you know, if we try and fix the national park systems, we're just going to kind of perpetuate that same system in its same ways. And so I'd really-I really think we have to shift our thinking on some of these things and kind of stay with the trouble a little bit longer rather than jump towards some future, because that complexity manifests itself in the deep rootedness of so many of the inequalities that were, as Ellen point out, they were designed. They're not accidents of history. They are the results of intentional desires and, you know, actions of people throughout history. So, you know, I think we have to always be sort of staying with that complexity and trying to understand it more. And it's slightly a historical process, but it's also, I think, just one of not giving up on why we are here now.

Manuel Lima
I-I do think there's a tremendous amount of value in thinking about the future, specifically projecting sort of like crazy hypothetical scenarios that could actually happen, and we're not that far. But I do agree with you, Jamer, that I think it's an over used sentence. And for me, I think it's really important that we focus on the present. And even more so I would add to that is alongating the present. I think that's a huge challenge for us, which is—I look back at the cathedrals, right? Medieval cathedrals. Those were projects that took 100, sometimes 200 and more years to build. Many generations just saw nothing being built, you know, build a block of the block and it just never see the final product. And some of the things that we are talking when it comes to complex systems, it doesn't-you cannot just do one thing today and expect the results tomorrow. Some of these things take, you know, talk about ecosystems affecting ecosystems, for example, they take years to manifest itself. Yearsto actually see the result of what you did today, sometimes decades, right? So this idea that we have to also fix the immediate as one, something really simple to fix right now is also maybe not productive, right. We need to like elongate the present and we need to invest in long term thinking in terms of— I love the Long Now Foundation because it forces us to, again, have this idea- this elasticity of the present, right, really extending the present and considering a much more elongated sort of, you know, project that it's not for us is for future generations. There is this thing, you know, in Native Americans, they had this thing which is like the seventh generation principle. I love that in this idea, for those who don't know, this is the notion that I'm doing this not for myself or my-my children, but for the benefit of seven generations down below me. Like this idea of investing in such a long future, which is pretty much a kind of extending the present right to some degree, I think it's immensely beneficial, right, and I think this idea of modeling kind of requires a little bit of that thinking, because modeling when it comes to complex systems is one of the most difficult things because there are multi variables, multi factors, it takes years again to see the results. It could go in multiple different directions. Like take weather, for example, who has ever predicted like the direction of a storm, like there's so many variables at play at any given moment. So I think having that sort of mindset of like elongating the present could be one approach for sure.

Jamer Hunt
And I can't help but add that to your question, Lee, I can't help but add the famous quote from George Box: All models are wrong. Some are useful. You know, I find that sort of words to live by in terms of, you know, models are always approximations and so they're always going to be wrong to a certain extent. And so then the question is, are they useful? And I think that that, you know, for me is a much more helpful way of thinking through the way that science can sometimes lean towards trying to be truthful or right. And I tend to think more is that a tool that we can use is something that can serve a means to an end that goes beyond just its kind of overall accuracy as a representation.

Ellen McGirt
I love where we ended up and sort of to put a bow on this part of the conversation, it forces me to think more broadly about the operating system of the developed world, which is capitalism for the most part, which does not take the long view and is not interested really yet in any meaningful way in stakeholder collaborative voices. And it maintains win lose orientation and is very binary that way and has an inherent bias towards the keeping in power. The kind of people who already have power, who know that models are wrong, but choose the ones who are useful and can sell them to a small number of people. So it just strikes me as this with no solutions in mind and I'm, you know, not recommending other social economic systems, but this is a wonderful way to stay open and to be open and to continue to talk about how the way business as usual is conducted continues to keep people trapped.

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.

Hendrik Kleinsmieder
My name is Hendrik Kleinsmieder, and I'm the senior vice president of Customer Experience for Data and Services. As a designer, I lead a 40 strong team. We specialize in data products, and that means from a design perspective that rather than looking at payment systems like Click to Buy or any of the other payment systems, we-we are interested in data and data visualization and in the representation of data. So it's a different skill set. We're all designers, but it's a different type of design. So the data space generally is changing and changing fast. And what's been interesting is that as we've gone on and as we've done things like develop our design system and improve and enhance our existing data products, that the message has landed, that: Hey, design makes a difference. And so as a designer, it's an increasingly interesting place to come. And that's quite special. And I think that's going to be a feature of the future of design.

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've got a million things we talk about. So, Ellen, you've been talking a lot about AI in your blog Race Ahead. And it would seem that machine learning, AI, would have been an obvious sort of super tool for managing complexity, right? That clearly now we've got some resources that are going to allow us to deal with this situation, whatever-however we frame it. But I'm not so sure. What do you think?

Ellen McGirt
I'm not so sure. But I have trained myself not to be sure on podcasts and at cocktail parties. But I am-I am absolutely not sure. And I spend a lot of time being very worried about the fundamental ingredients of AI. Of course, it's in big learning systems and big data models. Who owns the data? What are we drawing from? Very much like the fundamental problems with early social media. You know, you sign up for the AI product of your search engine, you sign up for the product of your ISP and email management system, and suddenly you are participating in a global experiment with which you have no control. You're a node in somebody else's moneymaking system and you don't know that you're contributing to something. And what does that look like? But the other piece of it that I've been thinking about a lot lately comes from Timnit Gebru and the folks at DAIR. They're really inspiring. They're mostly known as whistleblowers. We should be worried about this, we should be worried about that. But now that their work is evolving it's multimodal, it's international, you don't have to be an AI expert to participate in the work, which is wonderful. They're really pointing the way to a more joyful way of thinking about this kind of technology. She tells us —I was watching a panel discussion I spent a lot of time watching on Zoom, watching panel discussions that most people don't don't get to see which is really hilarious— and she talks about she's Ethiopian, Eritrean, and she talks about her grandmother, who can speak multiple languages but can't read in them. And she's like: What is the Internet for my grandmother? You know, what are the problems that she has to solve and where is the joy in being connected for her? And so what does it mean to use this big technology not to be a big operating guiding principle, the biggest, most powerful voice in the world that gets us to Mars and gets us more billionaires. But what does it mean to have it be personal individual owned by people, contributed by people to solve real problems that people are having that don't necessarily get them to the top of the world, but get them to be healthier, happier, and more joyful and more connected. So that's what I spent a lot of time thinking about. I bring a lot of skepticism of the man, but it was such a delight to have, yes, we should do that but we should also think about where can this bring joy and connection in the lives of real people who are not, who are not you.

Lee Moreau
So we could use a super tool for that as well.

Ellen McGirt
See that is the thing. It's like, what's a super tool? Does it have to be like like a super villain? Does it have to be Lex Luther or could a super tool be a screwdriver? Could a super tool be, you know, something that small? But it's all about fundamentally, it's about the trust of the people who, you know our are growing the tool. And what they really want to do with it.

Lee Moreau
Or lack of trust.

Ellen McGirt
Yeah.

Manuel Lima
Yes. I would definitely point to the lack of trust and how much AI, by many of these large corporations are really a black box. And I think that's the part that scares me the most, is being a black box for them, often, or most of them even inside and for certainly for us outside. And Gebru—I'm so happy that you mentioned, she was a victim of this, right? She was leading the ethical team at Google, investigating the ethical implications of AI, and she was literally fired, her and her coworker. And many have been fired ever since. So this idea — and you see this across Silicon Valley always now, which is hiring of ethicists — and I really couldn't disagree more with the hiring of ethicists and I will tell you why. First of all, this is what Gebru was was hired for, right? As soon as these people are hired, they are literally put on the corner and said, you know, don't look under the hood here, here, here and there. So basically, they have no power.

Ellen McGirt
Wow.

Manuel Lima
And as soon as they do start some digging, as she did so well, they get slapped, if not fired. And I think the worst part is that it works as a smokescreen because what it tells other coworkers or everyone working on these products, both engineers or designers, is-is that: You know what? Don't worry about the ethical implications of what we're doing. We have someone else to worry for you. Go back to your desk, do some coding and play with Figma, right. We've just hired an ethicist. And this is exactly what's happening. So when this other software developer was fired from Google as well by claiming that the algorithm that he created, it was finally sentient, probably you guys remember this like one about only one year ago, and I will leave a part the whole like being or-being or not sentient. I think that that's for another discussion, but the-the statement from Google was absolutely surprising for me, which was basically they were saying this person, they are just a software developer. They have no grounds to question the ethical implications of this product that he's actually building, right. He has no authority to actually question the ethical implications. So here we are like: Oh, we have ethicists, we have a whole team that can be fired at any moment if they misbehave,

Ellen McGirt
Right.

Manuel Lima
So that you guys worry about your own thing, right. That's so dangerous for me, really.

Lee Moreau
No, and it flies in the face of everything that's happening right now and design conversation, right? So we're all saying no, we need to be aware of the ethical implications of what we're doing. And that just says, well, you know, we can we can just erase that.

Jamer Hunt
Yeah. And when-when Paola Antonelli and I started the Design Violence Project and, you know probably started in 2012 or '13, it was precisely to sort of lift the carpet and get a sense of the ways in which design, for all of its kind of wonderful accomplishments, has also created harms and that it's, you know, sort of harms are not the result of bad intentions, but are often the result of good intentions, but a lack of representation or lack of participation in the processes. And it's just amazing to me, you know, and then going back to the whole 20th century of kind of critical theory and the social sciences, etc., it's amazing to me that we could ever imagine that these tools that we're building with so many resources from such large organizations which may end up producing incredible medical discoveries, for instance, I mean, there's no reason to suspect that they might not, but they might. But I think for me, it's just that we're all sort of collectively at the birth of this technology and somehow we're trusting the same kinds of people with the same sorts of resources to do the same sorts of things. And it's like, well, you know, it's great that the auto industry exists and that we can drive cars that certainly improve lives in a lot of ways. It's also about the leading cause of death globally. It's produced, you know, massive pollution around the world. How do we not have sort of the tools and the facility to be able to at the same time that we might be standing up these new ways of computing, that we're also standing up equally robust ways of thinking about the implications of what we're doing and how we might go about it in a way that increases equity rather than increases profit. And unfortunately, you know, profit always wins.

Manuel Lima
Yeah, that's such a good point Jamer. It's the whole idea of like: Yes, I'm creating this, I'm creating one added benefit and now I'm creating three other problems. So this in the end, like, is it actually worth it? And I think that's, you know, something that I actually do talk in my latest book is how design, for the most part, doesn't really care too much about the repercussion of its work. And I've seen this happen for various reasons. We just like a there's a launch, we deliver, you know, if you look at most design frameworks, whatever double diamond, whatever you look at, it ends with delivery. Thats it. After that, I wash my hands, I jump to do another project. I don't care if it actually lands somewhere, I would last. Who benefits from this and how it's benefiting from this. So I think there's a huge blind spot, sometimes intentionally, sometimes unconsciously by designers. But I think that is also something that I would encourage our community to to address really hands on, because we need to understand where it lands and how it lands and who's benefiting from this and what myriad of other problems is it actually creating. To Jamer's point, right, like we are creating all these like seemingly inoffensive tools that you slide up and left without realizing or maybe now realizing finally after some years of research, that this is actually causing tremendous amount of addiction, sometimes even leading to suicide, not just in in girls, but like in in youngsters over all the world, right. So this is sometimes even this addiction leads to gambling. And we are creating a whole set of problems of mental disorders that could be avoided by not playing this seemingly inoffensive, you know, interface because we simply care about the launch. We just launched this new feature and now we are being rewarded by launching. It's all about that as well, right, it's all about how much of your salary and your compensation is based not on the quality of the launch, but on the number of launches, that's how of Silicon Valley operates.

Lee Moreau
Meanwhile, I think this notion of the launch also is indicative of this larger sense of like looking towards the future and not sitting with the present.

Manuel Lima
Exactly elongating this idea that: Hey, I'm launching this now, but let's actually see how this operates in real life for, you know, a certain amount of time. Because that you really have to understand the fact of, of your design. That's the whole purpose why we are doing this. Like anyone that, you know, calls themselves a designer, we are doing this because we want to have a positive effect, whatever that is, digital, physical, whatever manifestation it has. That affect, if you don't care about the final effect of it, you know, why are you doing it in the first place?

Lee Moreau
So as we're kind of wrapping up, design seems to have historically been responding to this sort of age old question, which is: Can you help me? So imagine somebody saying like, I want to open this jar, I want to get an education. And, you know, the question is fundamentally like, can you help me do that? Can design serve? And then I'm imagining, like if Greta Thunberg came on to this call right now, it was in our little room here, the Swedish environmental activist right, If she's here and she asks, Can you help me? I'm not sure where I would begin as a designer. And some of that speaks to the just radical complexity of the way that she frames the world and the kind of things that she's confronting every day, which is not entirely unique, but just as a kind of case study. And so what I want to do is open this up to each of you to say like, what can we do as designers for Greta?

Jamer Hunt
I was just going to say I would contest a little bit your encapsulated design history. You know, most of the sort of professionalization of design came out of relationships with industry and particularly were in the late 19th century, beginning of the 20th century, were ways of sort of accelerating consumption by creating products that were easier to buy and that went obsolete faster. So I would agree with you—

Lee Moreau
The truth is a dark place Jamer,

Jamer Hunt
— at a larger level, that the compulsion to design stems from, in many ways a very human kind of need of how do I do this better?

Lee Moreau
Mhm.

Jamer Hunt
And so certainly if you write design large over, you know, centuries or millennia, then maybe that's true. But I don't want to forget the extent to which the modern design industries stem from primarily sort of the industrial revolution in the ways in which, at least in the West it was tied to economy and to capitalism, as Ellen so eloquently described before. But that doesn't do anything, to answer your question of what to do now. I mean, I think, you know, what strikes me just about this amazing conversation is the extent to which, you know, I go back to the concept of unknowing and the extent to which we really have to work harder at challenging every bit of received wisdom in the West, at least that we've inherited, and that that's probably has to be our first response and not to jump quickly into things, which is how most designers love to operate, which is, you know, roll up my sleeves and dive in. But to really pause and kind of ask why and how and who and whose interests. And if we don't rigorously and continuously ask those questions, we just end up perpetuating the same kinds of problems, I think. And so it's-it's somehow going to have to be something that I'm already seeing in design and in design education, which is, you know, a better blending of the sort of formal skills that you need to be a designer with the sort of critical thinking that you need to be a citizen of the world and to face down these really complex problems that we're facing and to do it in a way that prioritizes things other than sort of things that look cool or things that sell well. But, you know, do they create harm? Do they create equity? Or to put it in Ellen's terms, do they create joy and for whom?

Manuel Lima
Yeah, I would I would add to that. I think to answer your question, Lee, is we really have to diversify our skills. I think that's going to be paramount for the designer of the future. I think the designer of the future is probably going to be a mix of an ecologist, of a sociologist, of a systems theorist, writer, a futurist and activist, a reformer. So we are going to have to be all of these things put together. But that also means that we have to end — I think maybe that's what you were just pointing out —we're going to have to end this idea of design being kind of cool and, you know, being showcase in a museum, right, or in a portfolio. I think portfolios are a thing of the past, in my view, because many of the new things that designers will affect, right, are systems are services, and they don't really conform to the portfolio sort of idea, right. They don't really look polished and finalized because it's a work in progress, right, in constant mutation, in constant change. But yes, you were a pivotal part of that process, hopefully-hopefully helping improve it, whatever service or system that might be. But for the most part it is invisible. So I think that's another thing that design will-designers to the future will face: design will become much more invisible. And well, I will leave it that, I think AI would actually replace a lot of the visible parts of design or a good amount of them. But I think it's the invisible part that really excites me really, because I think that's first of all, how humans can really effect change. And this is again, a calling. I really think it's a calling. I think AI coming into design is actually a blessing because it will forces out of these like UI systems, you know, microscale and lack of ambition, to actually focus on the systems and services that truly matter.

Ellen McGirt
Well, first of all, I loved every minute I've spent with you three fine people. This has been just a wonderful conversation and-and time so beautifully spent. I feel like I have very little to offer Greta at this point. So I do what I will always do. I was going to tell her story about somebody else, which is the thing, that's the one thing I know how to do. I caught up with a woman named Chanda Prescotd-Weinstein, you may know her. She's a cosmologist. She has a wonderful TED talk. She's written a wonderful book about her work as a particle physicist. She focuses on invisible matter, which makes up most of the universe, Manuel to your point, dark matter. She has a favorite invisible, small piece of matter called an axiom, which is now my favorite as well. And she's also a proponent of black feminist theory, and she's a huge advocate for diversity in STEM, and she's just a fascinating person. So we were talking about invisible particles, dark matter, and why it's so vital to understand all these things. And she framed the issue, partly to save me from myself, I suspect, but also to—access to the sky as a social justice issue. You know, there's so much light pollution now. There is-we live in crowded spaces. And she started ticking through a list of people who did not have access to full access to the night sky. The Milky Way is visible to the naked eye, which is something I didn't know until I talked to her yesterday. So if you are an essential worker living in a cramped, urban, under resourced area, it's too bright at night for you to see the sky. If you live in a white flight suburb, which is still aflood with streetlights for safety reasons like I live in, you still can't fully see the sky. If you are incarcerated, you don't get to see night at all and you maybe you don't, you go out once a week or something. So all of a sudden—she if you she lives in New Hampshire, she lives near the shore so she can see the night sky, but only because she can walk. If you had mobility issues, you couldn't get it. So she ticks through this whole list of people who cannot see the full expression of the beauty of the night sky. It means wonder. It means awe. The opportunity to reflect on your own place in the mystery, or maybe become inspired to be a cosmologist like her, which is so poignant to me. So what her bigger point was — find your people. They're not going to be people who you think they're going to be, but find your people. And our role as a collective, I feel like we should start a business after this podcast would would be to help her do just that. Find your people. They're going to be different than you. They have a shared common experience of not having access to something that's good for them or that they would love or that would be meaningful. And the reasons why are going to be myriad, but we're never going to be able to get there until we figure that all out.

Lee Moreau
Beautiful. Ellen, I think we just found our people. Thank you for that. Thank you all for this incredible conversation. This has been lovely and eye opening, and I'm probably not going to sleep at night. Thank you.

Lee Moreau
This was fantastic. I want to give our listeners an opportunity to learn more about you. Jamer, would you tell us how people can find out more about what you're up to?

Jamer Hunt
Yeah, well, I'm ambivalent about social media, so it's a bit hard to find me. I am somewhere atJamerHunt and I'm at JamerHunt.com or something like that. As you can see, I stay on top of these things. And if nothing else, you can find me through some of my writing, particularly my book Not to Scale, which came out at the same moment that pandemic happened. So it's a great time to drop a book. And yeah, and otherwise, I'm usually in the streets of Philadelphia or streets in New York depending on the day.

Lee Moreau
Lovely. And we'll see you there. Ellen, where can people find out more about you?

Ellen McGirt
Well, first of all, thank you so much for this wonderful conversation. I miss you all already. I am setting up shop over at Design Observer this fall, you'll be able to find my new newsletter and equity focused project called Equity Observer, where I'm going to be expanding the work that you may know me for at Fortune with RaceAhead on where we can all better understand and act on the systems that drive inequality in the world. So I'm looking forward to continuing that reporting there with this new team.

Lee Moreau
Thank you Ellen. And we're all really thrilled about what's coming next with you at Design Observer. So, thank you.

CC Thank you.

Lee Moreau
Manuel, where can listeners find out more about you?

Manuel Lima
Well, first of all, yes, as as Ellen pointed out, thank you so much for it, for the conversation. It was it was great. It was really so fun. So much fun to just get to chat with all of you. I used to be on Twitter, but I'm not sure who uses that anymore, or X I should say. I'm really active on LinkedIn actually. I realize it's a kind of a cool kind of platform, but also if you're interested in some of the topics we talked about today, I go pretty deep on some of them in my latest book. It's called The New Designer: Rejecting Myths, Embracing Change. And it just came out a few months back by the MIT Press. You can find more about that in the book itself, for sure.

Lee Moreau
Thank you, Manuel. And thank you all for this conversation. And you can keep up with me, Lee Moreua, at Othertomorrows.com or on LinkedIn.

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. Thanks again to our brilliant round table Jamer Hunt, Ellen McGirt and Manuel Lima. You can find more about them on our show notes at Design observer.com/designas, along with a full transcription of our show. Our producer is Adina Karp. Judybelle Camangyan edits the show. Special thanks to CDM Studios in NYC, Producao Digital Azul in Portugal, and Maxine Philavong at Northeastern. Our music is by Joshua Brown. Thanks as always to Design Observer founder Jessica Helfand and to Design Observer executive producer Betsy Vardell.


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