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Design Is all Around Us, so Why Don't We See It?

The truth of the matter is that good, bad, and indifferent design can be polarizing for consumers. You like some apps you use, love a restaurant's ambiance, appreciate a great pair of custom shoes, or just know when you are having a great end-user, consumer or human experience.

Design is all around us: in the streets, on the bus, at work and in our homes.

Designers see it, learn from it, critique it, and improve upon it on a daily basis. For most of us normal folk, it is a lot less obvious. People do say that the best design is that which gets out of the way and that lets you do what is needed. So, not recognizing really is OK.

The truth of the matter is that good, bad, and indifferent design can be polarizing for consumers. You like some apps you use, love a restaurant's ambiance, appreciate a great pair of custom shoes, or just know when you are having a great end-user, consumer or human experience. You also dislike (or even hate) some of those same things. We all have different needs and wants, and a wide range of design professionals work hard to address them in the ways they feel are best, based on insight needs, budgets, and available time.

Overall, design is not perfect. But we attach emotions to it, and it affects how we view the world. Without good (or bad design), our everyday experiences wouldn't be the same (for better or worse).

One of the big challenges for the general public is that there are so many disciplines in design, and the design community is very broad and often not great at communicating what they do. Why should they? The products, experiences, and emotions they create and cultivate is enough. Or is it?

To help us understand a little more about design in general and why we should make a point of being more aware of its importance, I asked a couple of locals to give me their opinions.

First up is Mark Busse, a Vancouver-based design advocate and leader. He manages his business, Industrial Brand, and a thousand other things that help make design more obvious through discussions, like Creative Mornings Vancouver, Likemind Vancouver, Interesting Vancouver, and so much more. He strives to educate more people on the importance of design and the process behind it.

"Many say design has been democratized. Design has been fetishized, with far too much focus on sexy surface aesthetics instead of the underlying problem-solving and user experience that require deep design talent to produce. Words like 'innovation'and phrases such as 'design thinking' are too casually tossed around by laypeople today, and while it's terrific the topic is on people's minds and tongues, it is time to remind people that not everyone has the observation, empathy, vision, focus, and tenacity that effective design requires. The process of design, the actual work and skill that goes into creating elegant solutions to life's myriad of problems, is mostly a mystery to the public -- and unfortunately even for many who claim to practice design."

So, Mark, what is good design then?

"Good design is when choices by others enhance the human experience -- they make life better essentially. With the best design, these choices often go unnoticed and someone experiences good design when the room or building they are in inexplicably makes them feel happy; or the product they reach for is right where they thought, and it works easily without the need for instructions; or the answer to any number of life's questions -- from 'where's the bathroom?' to 'how do I get out of here?' -- is answered before they are asked. Good design also tends to embody elements of natural beauty [which are] unlikely to feel awkward or unfashionable over time -- and that is no small feat."

But what about the impacts of bad, or ill-conceived design, and who (or where) are the biggest culprits in society?

"Big question. The ultimate impact of bad design is death--literally. From confusing emergency exit-way finding or street signage causing crashes, to interfaces that cause user error or electronics that fail in vehicles, bad design can have serious consequences and impact human life. Good design looks ahead and addresses long- term needs, not short term profits, while poor design often results in waste and unforeseen costs--be it graphic or UX design that is short-lived, or buildings that don't last or function as required over time. Design has a direct impact on human feelings, from merely causing feelings of angst to literally making people feel terribly uncomfortable. I would even argue that poorly conceived design in the built environment can encourage poverty, despair, and even crime. Finally, while I'm always cautious about associating aesthetics or luxury with good design, the fact remains that 'ugly' is the most common result of bad design--and who wants to see ugly?"

I also caught up with Jennifer Cutbill, Co-founder and Director of Vancouver Design Week, who is working with a collaborative team of Vancouver's design workers and influencers to raise the profile of design between from September 15th to 28th. I asked her why she feels Vancouver even needs a design week ...

"Vancouver is home to an impressive list of designers and innovators. Yet, as a whole, it lacks a palpable design culture--making it difficult for designers to exchange ideas and perspectives across disciplines ... let alone with the larger community. I believe Vancouver needs this trans-disciplinary Design Week to kick-start these types of exchanges towards catalyzing a more vibrant and potent design culture."

What do you hope that Vancouver's citizens and business community will get out of the design week?

"At a high-level; more holistically innovative (i.e., functional, beautiful, sustainable, inspiring) solutions to the challenges we face as a city and as a society and to ultimately elevate whole system health, wellbeing, and quality of life. The truly gnarly problems we face as a society cannot be solved within the confines of a single discipline or mindset. We need to break down conventional barriers and leverage the agency of design and design-thinking to solve them!

And, at a more everyday level, I hope Vancouver Design Week inspires more curiosity and creativity in how we see, understand, and engage with our city and our surroundings. Whether that is appreciating how the design of a building sculpts the light and feel of our favorite spaces; how the design of a thermostat can shift our behavioral patterns and help us reduce our ecological footprint; or how the design of our clothing can change how we sleep, work, and play. I hope this initiative inspires us to recognize and appreciate the importance of design in our daily lives ... and inspires us to invest in design as a society for the betterment of our collective future."

...and what do you hope that the design industry will get out of Vancouver Design Week?

"I hope [Vancouver Design Week] will enable and inspire designers to exchange ideas, perspectives, and processes, so we can better collaborate and cross-pollinate across (and beyond) disciplines. I hope it will expand the design conversation and help forge new relationships and trigger new ideas!"

So, the lack of awareness of the good design surrounding us can be just as bad as poor design itself. I'd like to challenge you to seek out examples of design that affect your life. Take a few seconds to appreciate or lambast them. Have an opinion and then start a conversation with your family and friends. Let's become more design-aware and remember what Walt Disney said...

You can design and create, and build the most wonderful place in the world. But it takes people to make the dream a reality.

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