The importance of design in uncertain times

The beginning of the pandemic in 2020 may have aggravated the feeling of doubt and uncertainty on our day-to-day lives. However, the pandemic was not the only factor pointing to times of uncertainty: climate crises, the rise of extremist policies, loss of human rights, hate speech and war show that every day is a challenge.

At first glance, design may seem like an abstract concept, but we believe in the possibility of influencing and even connecting with the moment that we live in through a political or social point of view. When we dive in the etymology of the word design:

It means — among other things — “intent”, “purpose”, “plan”, “end”, “attack”, “conspiracy”, “figure”, “basic structure”, and all these meanings (and others) are intimately related to the definitions of 'astuteness' and 'insidy'.

As a verb (to design), it means «to build something», «to simulate», «to conceive», «to sketch», «to organize», «to act strategically». The word comes from the Latin 'signum', which means “sign”, and it still keeps its ancient root. Thus, from an etymological point of view, design means «drawing».

In addition to the fact that it is obvious that design is a creative tool, there is also a great strength in how its use can influence the way we perceive the world. Whether it is the construction of urban furniture aimed at bystanders in a busy area of ​​the city; or the development of circular economy projects, where no residue is wasted; or even the creation of a visual identity that makes reading easier for seniors; Design allows us to think about products and systems in an increasingly holistic and transversal vision. As problems and uncertainties of the world arise, we need tools and technologies (social, digital and informational) to deal with these complexities.

Along with uncertainty, great changes in the way we relate to the world are also noticeable. From real to virtual, the distinctions between each one are getting increasingly smaller. With these worlds becoming less distinguishable, we also become more dependent on digital tools. However, it is crucial to think about which questions are important for design at this moment. In a world that is more and more concerned about individual needs, how do we collectively think about impact?

In order to do this, we have gathered 3 questions to help think of Design as a political tool:

Is the content I’m creating in line with the ideals I believe in?

Beyond the individual sphere and work practice, it is important to question how what you create affects the society. It might not be possible that all works are aligned with this, but trying to think actively about the issue and even shedding light on at least one cause in which you believe is important.

How to rethink the user in a scope of individual experience for a group?

There has been a lot of talk about the “user-centric” matter, that is, putting the user above any other interest. However, if decisions in building codes and even selling data prioritize the individual experience, it ends up minimizing the collective impact. Therefore, it is extremely important to question projects with transparent data creation processes.

Does my work help or disturb the understanding of the world?

In times of great amounts of virtual creation, there is a strong debate about what we are producing and its purpose. Whether it is in the flow of disinformation and fake news, but also in web-design as a whole. Questioning the volume of production, the choice of tools, the presentation of the digital interface to the end user is necessary and urgent to check if we are not polluting the virtual world even more.

Even though there are many predictions and trends for which paths the world should follow, it is still difficult and distant to be certain at this moment. So, once again, we invest in the questions that will guide us. And now, being more aware, we continue to work.

But what about you? How important is design nowadays?

Share with us more questions in the comment section so we can build collective paths through design.