Design doesn’t matter.

April 24, 2019

We designers spend too much time talking about how valuable design is.

There. I said it.

Design is valuable—don’t get me wrong. Poorly designed ballots changed the course of American history. Process design keeps millions and millions of flights from crashing every year. Studies show that design-focused businesses dramatically outperform companies who don’t emphasize design.

As Dr. Ralf Speth, CEO of Jaguar Land Rover says, If you think that good design is expensive, you should look at the cost of bad design.”

So, the truth to whether design matters is a resounding yes. The perception, however, is still shaky.

In the past 50 years, designers have spent so much time trying to convince the world that what they do is valuable. AIGA’s mission is to advance designing as a professional craft, strategic tool, and vital cultural force.” We record podcasts, write articles, and hold conferences, all with the same message: Design will change the world! Design is the difference-maker!”

That isn’t a new message, either. Formed in Soviet Russia in 1962, the VNIITE (All-Union Scientific Research Institute of Technical Aesthetics) was a state-funded design organization in the USSR. They designed products, workspaces, and buildings. While they produced lots of exciting work, reading about the VNIITE[^1] left me disappointed.

Much of the notable work from the VNIITE wasn’t design work at all. For example, they published a journal titled Technical Aesthetics every month from 1964 to 1992, held exhibitions around the world showcasing concept designs, gave seminars, lectures, and arranged awareness-raising days for design. That’s all fine and dandy, but why wasn’t there more design done?

You heard it here first: I vow, as a designer, to spend my time designing things, not telling you how much you should value my work.

I hope you’ll take the vow, too.

[^1]Check out VNIITE: Discovering Utopia published by Unit Editions.