What do we do when we design?

In ICON magazine Christien Meindertsma says:

Architects can work across the board because they make things but they also write texts about what they do and they’re able to talk about it, which often designers aren’t. 1

That statement struck a cord because I have been thinking about the relevance, consequence and impact of the work we do as designers shaping the web – and my belief is that as a profession we need to do more to cultivate reflective practice as part of our toolbox. We need to think and write beyond the hard methods that we use: what are our guiding principles? what are the frameworks guiding our thinking? and what are the responsibilities we own up to?

If, for example, all our collective efforts as digital workers are co-creating a postliterate society, and were I to believe this to be a bad thing, is this the kind of work I want to be doing? (Regardless of how much I love the internet.)

I believe that we are doing important work. We are co-creators of the greatest social technology people have yet invented. And we need to engage with it in all seriousness by being able to step back and ask ourselves: what is it that we do when we do what we do? 2

For the web may be the last chance we have to invent something that can change everything – in a good way.

  1. Originally published 1st May 2010, Conversation between architect Alejandro Aravena, filmmaker Gary Hustwit, designer Christien Meindertsma and journalist Bruce Nussbaum. 

  2. In Systems Practice: How to Act in a Climate-Change World, Ray Ison attributes the question: What is it that we do when we do what we do? to Humberto Maturana. It is used here in the context of ‘critical reflection on our circumstances’.