Constellations and confluences of social influence on design and its processes

Design is a discipline chock full of tensions, not an activity lending itself to free-play ad-lib expression. It is rather an endemic social venture, one which typically only takes place and varies according to the needs, tastes, sensibilities, directives and requirements of others. Amongst these are other designers and those most immediate, i.e. game-changers, marketeers and business modellers in the communities of practice online and offline.

Also quite close are those who directly or indirectly pay for the labour of design, the clients, customers, managers, partners, design business owners. All of these people influence outcomes through their advice, diatribes, jeremiads, leadership, rhetoric, requirements, instructions, dictates, contracts and governance. Beyond this group lies even wider social spheres of influence, and not least amongst these in either scope and scale, are actual [real] and potential [imagined – i.e. personas] consumer-users, subscribers, the government regulators and legal people, the standards bodies, suppliers of material, components and equipment, technical journalists and pundits, the fashionista of technologies and product blogs, and so, so many others. Designers are at best are only stewards of their designs, like children designs are perhaps best thought of as coming through them rather than coming from them, they are medium of the designs as they come to be over time. Vacuum cleaners became Hoovers before they became Dysons but they do not do it alone.

The tension between styling versus designing. The tension that lies in the identity of the designer and user in the design process. Are they defined or inscribed by their media, social and technical knowledge? Or is it all just a matter of design flair? Or are more complex chaotic forces at play? If we are honest there is a a mystery to the Promethean fire of professional design which even designers marvel at, are drawn to, like moths to the proverbial flame. And, today the role of the designer is an even more complex and far-reaching, they must be more than Janus-faced than before, and cannot restrict themselves to only looking forwards and back, but also laterally, top down and bottom-fed, and all other combinations of perspectives in-between. It is work within a pavilion of mirrors where the consumer-user is also a designer of experiences through the design. Today’s professional designer may be considered as strategist – shifting focus upstream to work right at the front end of innovation where design thinking and service design shape ideas on new products, business models and services; or the next day the designer is figured as co-creator – working downstream with user and community groups using action research, ethnography and Delphi in a rethink of the creative process from the consumer-user perspective; next day they may be the designer as rationalist – sticking fast to the notion that intellect, talent and knowledge will find technological solutions to modern woes; and finally, on Friday the designer may be storyteller – harnessing great imaginations to create the compelling narratives that communicate values and make us believe in our changing world.

Tensions are created and are they are mediated between all of these groups and individuals whose articulations of the new can make it happen, accelerate it or not. They are within or between the alternatives of starting ideas, ideation and the choices of prototype. They define success, adequacy and failure in the finished article, they decide on where and if to distribute globally, where and if to mass manufacture globally, whether to place on-line, There are also the wider spheres of other like-products, compendiums and smorgasbords of services, sites, competitors and all else which exists to characterise the wider economy and society. Human and non-human elements collide in this cacophony and apparently chaotic universe of design and design thinking creating new and interesting human-made things, outcomes and activities. They provide models and ideas for export and import, applications and data for uploading and downloading, and the process. of course, begins again and again.

Du Gay et al's cultural circuit

What defines a product of its time? What defines a designer who is forward-thinking, yet aware of the pluses and minuses of yesteryear? One who knows and values craft and crafting, as well as human values and the architecture and sculpting of information, chunks, tweets, bits and bytes? One who can play with and within the social and technical constituencies?

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