A Wishlist from: Designing Citizens

A Wishlist from: Designing Citizens

The end of a short talk with Carnegie-Mellon University Industrial Design Faculty by Wendy E. Brawer on November 18, 1993. reprinted in Whole Earth Review's Issue 88, Winter 1995.

Whole Earth Review has a great section on eco design and tons of other thought-provoking stuff. Email wer@well.com to get the latest news.


    1. Don't check your citizenship at the studio door, take part in the bettering of the country by involving your students in the examination of bigger problems and conditions plaguing our society. Are issues like domestic disarmament and child abuse design problems? Industrial design skills are well suited to developing solutions to more challenging problems than those raised by most products. Help set the stage for deeply motivated citizen designers.

    2. Most Americans are aware of their rights as citizens, and you teach us about our design rights, and how to safeguard those rights when it comes to things like our intellectual property rights, but what about our responsibilities as citizens and as citizen designers? Do we owe anything back to our society beyond the sensory pleasure and status an elegant widget can give? Is quality of life being sabotaged, corrupted or improved by industrial design? Can designers take heart and become post-industrial? How can designers help create an America where stewardship and being an asset to the community is an enjoyable and natural part of our profession?

    3. This nation of rugged individuals needs better tools for collaborating with others. Teach us to communicate with engineers and scientists, politicians and business people. Help us work fairly with people regardless of stereotyped differences. Part of this is de-emphasizing the role of the ego and competitiveness in design education. Please teach us to respect heroic deeds above heroes. We need to look beyond western culture and encourage a cross-disciplinary, cross-cultural approach.

    4. We can't guarantee a life of sufficiency and dignity to each human in America, let alone the rest of the world, until we understand the fundamentals of restoring and maintaining a sustainable society. One of the first steps toward that is to expand our definition of home, and use that broadened definition when assigning class projects. We must think and talk about where and how we wish to live. What do housewares look like when we include our whole bioregion in our definition? Students must have a better understanding of the upstream and downstream effects of their work on our environment. We must rethink the role of natural systems and cycles in our designs, and understand how permanent even our most disposable products really are. We live in a country where the average adult can recognize approximately 100 different logos and trademarks, but can name less than 10 plant species, according to Paul Hawken. Designers have had a lot to do with this unbalanced view, this positioning that has made Americans view environmentalists as extremists and weirdos. I compare this position to being where computer nerds were a short time ago - now they are leading us all down the information highway, and today's job market demands that designers have well-developed computer skills. Likewise, without the ability to integrate environmental considerations into our projects, we will not become leaders and we'll be much less employable in the near future.

    5. Don't fear the sun. I'm talking about renewable energy now, and the opportunity this constant source of power affords designers. Don't continue to buy the illusions created by cheap fossil fuels. That's the blood of dinosaurs, and it will drive us to extinction too. Investigate the scientific and political reality of oil and learn about the tremendous strides renewable technologies are racking up. Don't make America dependent on other countries' technologies, and stop waiting to put the emerging renewable dynamos to work. Many options are cost-effective now, and a tremendous range of other sustainable technologies are near term. Design = Power: we are in a great position to design innovative infrastructures, applications and systems.

    6. Please teach us that learning never ends. Don't send us out into the world thinking that we are ever done being students. Everything is evolving too fast to permit us to rest. Encourage curiosity and the questioning of authority, even yours. Get them to consider design a continual quest, and get them to decide what the quest is for. Designers need long term goals for their lives' work.

If we start now, perhaps by the millennium, we'll have developed the ability to plan and design in a more holistic, democratic way. Perhaps we'll be ready.

© Wendy E. Brawer 1995

Back to Writing Projects