Previously I mentioned a slight uneasiness with the notion that in some way designers hold an elevated status. What I may have really been recognizing is the burden of responsibility that design has on the designer, and the uneasiness was a realizing of the power of design in the wrong hands: i.e., someone who employs design with tragic consequence.

Today I read Human Dignity and Human Rights: Thoughts on the Principles of Human-Centered Design, an essay delivered at ?Ǩ?Reshaping South Africa by Design?Ǩ in 2000 by Dick Buchanan. Buchanan assigned it for tomorrow’s class. In the essay, Buchanan points to Robben Island, site of the prison in which Nelson Mandela was held, and the Holocaust as examples of ?Ǩ?design gone mad.?Ǩ

Buchanan?ǨѢs essay marvels at the creation of the South African constitution, which was ?Ǩ?designed?Ǩ with human dignity and human rights at its core. His argument, I believe, is that design can impact the world in very serious ways, and it?ǨѢs paramount that designers recognize this, for poor design choices can, as Buchanan says, ?Ǩ?lead to harm in our complex world.?Ǩ

One thing I’m uncertain about is the relationship between design and designer. Is the responsibility of a designer greater or different than any other profession? If a constitution can be designed to impact the lives of the people within a country, and if mass murder can also be designed, where does that leave the designer? Or is the idea that design fairy dust can be sprinkled around and benefit all professions?

As if predicting this very question, or perhaps even implanting it in my mind, Buchanan says:

We are under no illusion that design is everything in human life, nor do we foolishly believe that individuals who specialize in one or another area of design are necessarily capable of carrying our successful work in other areas. What we do believe is that design offers a way of thinking about the world that is significant for addressing many of the problems that human beings face in contemporary culture. We believe that conscious attention to the way designers work in specialized areas of application such as communication or industrial design is relevant for work in other areas. And we believe that general access to the ways of design thinking can provide people with new tools for engaging their cultural and natural environment.

That sounds good, but doesn?ǨѢt necessarily clear everything up for me. ?Ǩ?Design is everything in human life?Ǩ sounds pretty important. It still seems like design thinking is being offered as a solution to the world?ǨѢs problems. And I’m still not sure about how designers relate to design thinking.

Am I a missionary on the cusp of a new era in human development? Will design one day take over the world? Or is this all hogwash? I don?ǨѢt know. Do you?