First Things First
Wonderful… thank you so much for the warm welcome. I'm so honoured to be here speaking to you all today, and I'm so glad that you've all come out in support of such an important event. Before I get started, I think we should all give a huge round of applause to Aral and the Indiephone team for putting this event together, it's so important.
Thank you guys so much.
So, why am I here? As Aral mentioned, earlier this year I was very fortunate to lead a small team of people in renewing the First Things First manifesto for the year 2014. This is a manifesto with fifty years of history behind it, and it touches on many critical issues in the design and technology industry. And there's so much to be said about the manifesto but today I'd like to start by talking about the question that led me to lead the project in the first place.
It is a big question: what is a designer? As a designer we're known for tackling a number of challenges; we often define our jobs by a series of specialties or technical skills, whether that's setting type and layout, creating illustration, branding and logos, information design, writing code, or creating dynamic interfaces. And all of these activities as disparate and diverse as they may be, they're all joined together by a common theme, and that theme is communication.
Design is and has always been about communicating, and as designers, we are the communicators. We communicate stories and information through text; structure and hierarchy through layout; values and persona through visual design; function through coding usage through interface. But sometimes I think we get lost. We forget about the communicative aspects of our work, and we get tied up in perhaps using the latest greatest typefaces, or worrying about whether our design is flat or skeuomorphic or material or post-flat and it feels like these trends and technicalities are almost all that matter.
And this isn't to say that aesthetics, structure, function, interaction, evaluation; it's not to say that these aren't important parts of design, because they are important components, but they're all subject to a much bigger question: what are we communicating? What are we putting into the world? This is a very important question to ask, because it doesn't matter how beautiful, functional, or user-friendly your work is, if the design you're working towards enables a product that is duplicitous or deceitful towards the people who consume it. I mean, I love what Google has done with the visual design of Android and, if I'm honest, I wish my phone looked like this, but the fact remains that Android is simply a beautiful, functional and user-friendly data harvester.
Likewise, as Aral alluded to before, it doesn't matter if your work brings together billions of users, if it then deceives them into being lab rats for social experiments that is funded initially they said, by the US Army, but last night they were saying the Department of Defence, so surely, that's much better?
We need to start looking at the bigger picture and thinking about not how we're designing, but what we are designing. The most critical thing for designers to be thinking about right now, at least one of the most critical things, is not what new operating system Apple is going to be putting out, or what new CSS techniques are going to become available, or what trends we should be following, but what design can do to empower the people who have had their trust and privacy abused by corporations and governments for profit. This is a big question that we need to address. We need to start examining whose interests our work serves. What or whom does it enable and what or whom does it suppress? This means researching not just users and patterns and data, but also stakeholders and motives.
I started this talk by asking what is a designer; a designer is a communicator and design and communications are not art, and they are not value-free practices. We are responsible for what we put into the world. And I think that as designers, it is our job to ensure that the work that we put into the world leaves it and the people who inhabit it better than they were before.