Reported by Ben Valentine
To kickoff the new design discussion series, Designing Innovation, put on by Ford and IDSASF, Yves Béhar, Freeman Thomas and Jordan Brandt sat down in San Francisco for a livestreamed conversation exploring contemporary design. The panel, moderated by Nathan Shedroff, explored sustainability, new technology and the role of the designer in an increasingly complex and machine-driven world.
Shedroff, Chair of MBA Strategy and Design at California College of the Arts, started the discussion by asking about the role of sustainability in design and strategic operations today. Sustainability is a criteria for research and development, design, materials and even production at every step. Yet, although it is fundamentally important to successful design, both Béhar, CEO and founder at Fuseproject, and Thomas, Director of Strategic Design at Ford Motor Company, emphasized that sustainability is no longer so prominently featured—it's become one theme of all the questions.
Freeman Thomas addresses the crowd
So what should designers be thinking about now? This is where Brandt, the Technology Futurist at Autodesk, was most in his element—he believes that we're going to experience a renaissance in design over the next decade. Brandt suggested that big data and the industrial internet will drastically shift how designers solve the problems of yesteryear. While designers are experts at finding questions, Brandt claims that the "solution is only going to be as good as the questions asked." Rapid, iterative and algorithmically processed questions and simulations will improve design as well as allow more people to get involved along the way.
From left to right: Nathan Shedroff, Jordan Brandt, Freeman Thomas and Yves Béhar
Béhar and Thomas hesitantly agreed, but with many caveats. Thomas believes that the stories and beauty behind great design takes a human touch, but admits that "your intuition can be off." While it is true that algorithms are breaking news, writing weather reports and even playing a larger role in fighting crime, machines still trail their human counterparts by some distance. Béhar reflected, "The day a computer can create a good screenplay we're all done." Happily, that day is far from realized.
"What really good design does is move ideas forward," Béhar says. "What I love to do, in my work, is to find out what are the resisting points to change." Brandt suggests that the big resistance to the changing world today is an outdated and romantic belief in the designer as genius. "Let the users create their own meaning—the tools are out there."
Jordan Brandt (left) and Yves Béhar (right)
3D printing, big data and new algorithms for responsive and democratic design—not famous designers—are what will be pushing design forward the most. Despite the allure of Brandt's claims, Béhar astutely critiques this techno-utopian logic; anyone can buy paint, but few are artists. Thomas and Béhar are still artists, and their work has undeniably made a difference; we'll just have to see what role they play in Brandt's emerging world.
Check out the video from the event: