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Masters of Design
Jamais Cascio, 18 May 05

The new issue of Fast Company -- a business magazine still hanging on -- is all about design, and looks to be fairly interesting reading. As of right now, among the few web-accessible pieces are a series of profiles of different designers, showing the breadth of design thinking across a variety of disciplines. Probably the most WorldChanging-relevant entry is the profile of Bruce Mau, whose "Massive Change" project has proven both inspiring and surprisingly controversial.

For Mau, design is a powerful tool that's best used to attack vexing problems. The exhibition leads viewers through spaces defined by challenges where there are new opportunities -- many spurred by technology -- for design to play a problem-solving role. There is, for example, a humble but elegantly designed purifier that makes drinking water accessible to the developing world. More than anything, Mau's goal is to push people to rethink their preconceptions about design and what design can accomplish.

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As someone who earns my bread as a designer, I want to give a talk at a "Green Design" conference one of these days, entitled, "How To Be An Innovative Green Designer Without Becoming A Professional Conference Speaker." Because there's a world of difference between the folks who wave their hands and the folks who roll up their sleeves. The hand-wavers show up in the magazines; that's their job. To the extent that they popularize good design, they're mostly harmless. But don't look for any dirt under their fingernails or sweat in their armpits - there isn't any. And without dirt and sweat, little gets done. Sorry if this sounds like a rant - it's not. It's more a bemused reflection on status versus accomplishment.

Posted by: David Foley on 18 May 05

I think both types are needed: The hand wavers and the actual innovators and implementors. Currently good green design gets put on the back shelf because the end consumer (or the salesman - contractor - chain store) doesn't know about it or just assumes doing it green will be prohibitively expensive. That's where the hand wavers are needed to show them that it isn't necessarily that way. Then the real designers can get in there and move the bar higher to keep the cycle going.

Posted by: Sean Barrow on 18 May 05

I saw Massive Change in vancouver - it was interesting as a losely amalgamated set of well-presented sound bytes and facts, but could some one point me to an article on what was controversial about it? I left feeling underwhelmed - wondering what I missed.

Posted by: Rod Edwards on 18 May 05

" I think both types are needed..."

Sean, thanks for that. You're right. Sustainability is an ecosystem, with many niches. If we tried to make it a monoculture, it would fail spectacularly. Thanks for your insight.

Posted by: David Foley on 19 May 05

There's a lot of focus on "design" lately but it's not the first time there's been so much hype. I recently dug up old issues of ID magazine and Businessweek and found much of the same rhetoric from the late 1980's (before corporate America discovered China and a new way to bottomfeed). Given this sense of deja vu, I'm a bit hesitant to jump on the "isn't it great to get all this attention" bandwagon. And articles with titles like "How to Act Like a Designer" and " ...Or Just Look Like One" don't help (even if there are disclaimers buried inside them).

Posted by: csven on 19 May 05



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