Bruce Nussbaum wrote about the negative impact of doing "good design" on Fast Company's design blog. I agree with quite a bit of what he has to say. But as Emily Pilloton points out in her response, Mr. Nussbaum has some incorrect information. And as Design Observer puts it, he picked on the wrong target.
Still, some points ring true for me. How often does doing good manifest from one's own idea of what good actually is—oblivious from what good means to who's being "helped."
Pilloton's post included an interesting quote by Ivan Illich:
"If you have any sense of responsibility at all, stay with your riots here at home... You will know what you are doing, why you are doing it, and how to communicate with those to whom you speak. And you will know when you fail. If you insist on working with the poor, if this is your vocation, then at least work among the poor who can tell you to go
There's a rich history of designers who have heeded the call to action (Tibor, Eames, Mockbee). But there has been a recent overall shift in our profession—doing work that has a positive social impact is now the cost of entry. The majority of young designers entering a professional practice are motivated by this and that's a good thing. However, are emerging designers emotionally prepared for this type of work? In a recent conversation with a fellow "do gooder," she mentioned that often young folks are still discovering their own boundaries and abilities. If they're not yet in touch with their own needs, surroundings and motivations, are they capable of addressing another's, especially if that person's environment is completely diverse from their own?
Does a traditional design education cover all the social and emotional skills necessary for success in these endeavors? Last month, Project M conducted a two-week session in Minneapolis. Although I wasn't directly involved, I lived vicariously through some of my students who participated and cheered 'em on from the sidelines. There seemed to be a focus on students "looking inward" and establishing trust between each other before taking on bigger ideas. John Bielenberg's Think Wrong strategy addresses many of the dynamics that come up when taking on social issues with a design process. The exciting thing about "thinking wrong" is that it isn't necessarily tied to just "doing good" projects. It promotes a much more well-rounded practice that could be applied to a lot of things. But Project M only lasted for two weeks. So what's next?
At the end of the day, I'm hoping that the conversation moves from whether or not we should engage in "doing good" to how we prepare designers for "doing good." And what would be even better? When "doing good" is replaced with "doing design."