Extra! Extra! Designers Suck!

Sorry I’ve been slow at posting here, I’ve been doing writing in a few other capacities and its been draining energy for writing here also. I hope to pick up the pace again soon.

In the mean time, the brouhaha over Bruce Nussbaum’s blog post “Are Designers the Enemy of Design?” just won’t die down, almost a month after it was first posted.

In between gaps of doing other things I’ve been trying to think how to respond to the article. Does he have some valid points? Yes. Is he completely overblown and offtrack on others? Yes. His article is a molotov cocktail, only as well crafted as needed to last for a brief time before setting everything around it aflame. Nussbaum has done as much as anyone to put design on a pedestal and get ahead of where the majority of the profession is in terms of what it can deliver in terms of business, eco, and cultural impact. Now he’s going the Fox News route of raising doubt by pretending to be neutral but hiding an agenda behind a question mark.

Frankly I’m kind of tired of these types of articles, I’ve been reading them (and have penned a few myself) for the two decades I’ve been involved in design. I don’t want to dismiss their value entirely, but I just feel we’re at a point where they are not that productive any more. I’d prefer to let my work do the talking, and move things forward by doing (I hope) good work - in part because at these early days of the design/business mashup it’s hard still to have a very clear perspective on what it is and how effective it is.

And there’s that thing that you can call your children ugly, but you would punch your neighbor’s nose if they said the same thing. My hackles rise when an “outsider” like Nussbaum comes tearing in, in many cases only half informed. There are many things I don’t care for about BusinessWeek’s editorial style, but I don’t go off on screeds about how all editors suck. He could say that and know what he’s talking about (not that he will), I don’t have much of a leg to stand on.

NextD have done a great service by collecting together 50 responses to the article which give a good spectrum of thoughts. There’s a 60 page PDF to download. I haven’t had a chance to read them all yet, by any stretch, but the first ones are good. Tony Fry, if you happen to read this, drop me a line, I thought your response was hilarious.

For somebody who likes to simply things as much as possible (beyond where they should be simplified), Nussbaum has got a whole bunch of things mushed together. As Gunnar Swanson says in his short-and-to-the-point contribution to the collection, Nussbaum’s essentially collapsed design, design thinking, sustainable design, democratic design all together as though they were interchangable terms. And how Nussbaum can cite the iPod and iTunes as examples of “designing with” instead of “designing for” is beyond me.

I find this laxity of language one of the most confounding things about promoting design within organizations. Design is such a fuzzy word (verb, noun, used to cover any number of different parameters and actions) that it’s like the preverbial blind men feeling up an elephant. It covers everything and therefore nothing. Innovation is no better. But often both design and innovation are treated as ends rather than means, and each can be wielded well and poorly by both arrogant bastards and pleasant team players.

Lastly, I want to commend your attention to an article that is a much more thoughtful and even-mannered treatment of similar topics, posted at Core77 a full two months before Nussbaum’s. Enough said. Let’s move on.