Alix Rule Makes Waves with ‘Design Probably Can’t Really Change Anything Dramatically’ Essay

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Could that be the first crack in the “design will save us all” mantra of the past year? Probably not, but if so, we want to be able to say we, sadly, called it first. We’re talking about an interesting essay, “The Revolution Will Not Be Designed,” by Alix Rule in In These Times magazine. In it, Rule says that while thinking design, in whatever form you decide to define it, is going to be the thing that makes the world a much better place, solving all those rotten social ills, is a nice ambition, it’s also naive and flawed from the start.

“Design thinking” describes a moment in the pursuit of social good that hardly ever arrives: when all the hearts are in the right place, all opinions have been brought into line and all that needs to happen is the change itself. If the model has intellectual benefits, it’s doubtful they outweigh the deficiencies of ignoring the long process by which consensus is built-a.k.a. politics.

This generation’s design movement is built less on a coherent set of ideas than a simple, can-do attitude. As BusinessWeek‘s [Bruce Nussbaum] puts it: “The natural optimism of a design approach is refreshing and relevant when tackling global social problems as well as business [ones].”

She makes some really interesting points from there, and ones that are likely to ruffle a lot of feathers. But it might also inject some realism into all the optimism, which people like Cnet‘s Tim Leberecht seem to semi-agree with in his response to Rule’s essay. It’ll be interesting to see if this whole thing spreads a bit and gets people talking. We’re hoping so.