As the design approach becomes more and more systemic, universities and businesses try to understand where the boundaries of the approach really end. The field of mobility design is particularly complex and touches crucial design dilemma’s, such as the fair use of scarce resources. For example, if you want to design a car, be somewhat sustainable, and grow, European policies will tell you to go electric. However, cobalt, currently an essential material for electric batteries, is rare, and cobalt mines come with a high expense of social injustice.
The thing is that mobility is never just a product. It defines profoundly how we live, how we exchange goods, how we foster international relations, and how we define concepts of freedom and belonging. It’s impossible to fully map out the social ramifications of each and single one of the mobility designs ever created, nor of the ones currently present in our society. Yet as designers we want to have an intentional social impact, especially because many mobility designs appear to have negative consequences on our present societies - and could be hugely destructive for the future.
Mobility design is also not limited to transport design, as much as movement is not just about going from A to B. It revolves around the human and social needs of ‘connection, freedom, and resources’, and around ‘the costs of meeting these needs’. If this shift might once more confuse and expand the area of scope, it also opens to an incredible set of design opportunities that can help to not just blindly design in favor of the wealthy.
OK but how can we design systemically and consciously for the mobility industry if we cannot even define its domain?
Somewhere someone must start changing things, aka mobility design needs a reframing.
Changemakers Lowie Vermeersch (Granstudio Creative Director), Matthijs van Dijk (our own Reframing Studio Founder and Director), Wouter Haspeslagh (Granstudio), and I have conducted research on the relationship between mobility and society for over 2 years now.
In conversation with incredibly talented experts and with the generous support of TU Delft Faculty of Industrial Design Engineering, we started a reflection and investigation that has resulted in the book ‘Mobility Society: Society Seen through the Lens of Mobilities’.
In this book, we search mobility from personal, economic, emotional, and philosophical perspectives, focusing on the social impact of mobility designs on a micro and macro level. We discuss the boundaries of the design practice, and examine how to guide transitions in such an interlayered field of global relations.
The book’s journey is also an uplifting one. Reminding ourselves of the power of creative and future thinking, we look at examples of art and design as the start and mean for real social change.