CRISP #1 is out!

Download the article by Gijs Ockeloen or view the first 5 pages of the magazine. Supposedly copies can be ordered somewhere but fails to communicate how and where...Anyway, this is what I wrote


Each year, our educational system pumps more professionals into the design ecosystem, which begs the question what all these designers are going to do? Although people in academic circles may think that the Design profession has been undergoing a transition, it seems to me that in practice most designers are doing more or less the same things we have all been doing for ages: cutting foam, shaping clay, and organising pixels.

Most senior studio managers I talk with have a pessimistic outlook on the economic prospects of such work. As much as I agree a shift is needed, I think it a myth that it has already taken place. Worse still, I happen to think that design lost a lot of its more promising appeal to obsessions with style, fame and trends. As design became mainstream, and designers reached rock star status, the bulk of their talents and efforts was directed to museums, coffee table books and birthday present boutiques. With CRISP, we are presented with an opportunity to recalibrate our professional compass. We won’t need to completely reinvent our profession. All we need to do is remember what design was about and check whether the time is right to put certain aims back on the agenda.

One thing that surely deserves to be put back on the agenda is Information. Consider architect Robert Venturi, who characterised our ‘mother’ profession, architecture, as an Information surface almost half century ago. Of course, when he wrote ‘Learning from Las Vegas’, he was thinking about billboards, neon sings and logos. In those days, the early seventies, his designed buildings seemed bizarre enough to be considered as being vernacular. But looking back Venturi may have been pointing out something that will become commonplace once innovation provides us with the technology of screens printed on cans of soup or wallpapered onto a building. The information surface will become a truly challenging reality not only in architecture, but even more so in design.

As designers start to think about how a product handles information, this will certainly change their role. One of these shifts is a focus upwards along the value chain. Consider the following example. If you were asked to come up with suggestions to develop a sustainable highway, yesterday’s way to go would be the ‘hardware’ approach. These hardware solutions might incorporate solar panels in street lights, increase the number of windmills, or offer an adventurous system to recover the energy stored in asphalt. Although these are all valuable ideas, many consider them to be examples of common practice. In contrast, Venturi’s son would take a completely different approach and probably look for improvements in the driving behaviour of drivers. When design solutions start to persuade drivers to adjust their cruising speed or deal with congestions more effectively, the net effects of such behaviour can be impressive because they are repeated every single day.

Designers who see themselves as ‘information surface‘ creators will want to make the road communicate. These designers will point their clients, usually in the business of boiling asphalt and spreading it around evenly, towards directions they should consider to innovate. These clients also need to reinvent themselves, as their world has also changed dramatically. The redefined brief does not ask for a road, but a service to store, manage, assess, and communicate data.

It may initially seem expensive to develop a system that both reads a car’s GPS data, extracts engine metrics from the in-car management system, and provides a driver with feedback and recommendations for their driving speed. These costs, however, should be compared to the costs of milling sensor loops into the pavement, placing displays alongside the road, and maintaining all the traffic lights. Consider also the savings resulting from sensible driving behaviour. Such costs are saved once roads collect and communicate information, and will benefit a much larger group of stakeholders than just the road building contractor. These stakeholders must first be persuaded to invest in the project. The guys in charge of the asphalt boiler have little interest in these calculations; this discussion will have to take place high up in the value chain.



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