If design is everything, is it anything?

Design has worked in this way for a very long time in the world. It still works for the most part.

It’s true that, as architect and designer Nicolas de Montchaux says in the introduction to this issue, this design has done a lot of good in the world, “sharing responsibility for getting us into our current ecological crisis.” Each new thing is probably not that much better than the old.

Of course, we try to make new things that are better than before. But even big shifts are complicated. Take electric cars. They may not use fossil fuels, but they come with a trade-off of their own—a variety of materials, from cobalt to copper to lithium, must be mined to make their batteries. Solving emerging environmental challenges doesn’t begin to make another difference that could go a long way toward reducing carbon emissions: learning how people can drive less.

In her post-graduate biography on design thinking, Rebecca Ackerman shows how, without thinking, that iterative problem-solving process reflects the concerns expressed by McCoy. But Ackerman reports on design computing today and sees optimism in new efforts to create design tools “that can serve diverse communities fairly and solve diverse problems well in the future.”

Not for the first time, and certainly not for the last time, the design profession has been raised to questions that have not been asked before: Who is this for? Who uses it (and who or what can affect it)? Who is excluded? Have we explored the unintended consequences? Are we solving the right problem?

These are some of the questions we were thinking about when we designed this issue (yes), what you see is not the “pattern” of typical stories. What they describe is the astonishing breadth of what falls under the umbrella of design today.

Wi Douglas Haven studies the use of AI automation for the design of new drugs, an approach that has the potential to deliver cheaper pharmaceuticals in a faster time frame. Matthew Ponsford explores the changes taking place on the outskirts of Mexico City, where the cancellation of a major international airport project creates an opportunity to revitalize the nature and culture that once thrived there.. Could This Controversial Wilderness Foreshadow the Ecosystem of the Future?

The 25th anniversary of John Clarke Levine’s massively multiplayer online role-playing game Ultima Online, a precursor to the Metaverse, shows how much the relative success or failure of design depends on human behavior. Do people act the way the designer intended or not?

And you’ll read about the movement in alternative prosthetics: creating devices that make no attempt to blend in, instead of trying to mimic a “normal” body. “It could create a new way for prosthetists to take control of their self-image and feel more empowered, while simultaneously breaking down the stigma surrounding disability and limb difference,” writes Joanna Thompson.

If we accept that everything is a design and that everyone is a designer, our expectations for the discipline may be unrealistic, even misguided. Designer Rick Poynor wrote in 1999: “It is no exaggeration to say that designers are engaged in no less than the production of contemporary reality.”

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