Where was design when the really important things in the history of modern humanity happened? The really important things, not the development of a typeface like Helvetica or a massively designed stool. I am thinking of the discovery of penicillin, the spread of electricity or the establishment of the health insurance system. Designers are not mentioned in the history books. But what if the time is over in the shadow of technology and economics and global insignificance?
In recent years, major business consultancies have acquired design offices and agencies worldwide and integrated them into their value chain as an essential component. Nowadays, books about Design Thinking, User Centricity and the customer journey/experience are a required reading for every CEO.
Design has arrived at the Business Club.
No company, no authority, can successfully master the digital transformation today without focusing on user experience (UX). Now, UX is the Trojan horse that has brought modern design, design management and design practice into our work lives.
With the influence follows the responsibility. Therefore, UX has hardly left the nursery of superficial design, it is used as a strategic means in the form of persuasive design for the acquisition of capitalist world dominance in the digital age. It uses state-of-the-art design understanding (including design research and behavioural psychology), along with technology, to guide and direct human action to a company’s economic advantage in a controlling manner.
What began nearly 20 years ago with the intention of optimizing the use of a website for the user, today leads to the fact that even seasoned adults can hardly resist the in-app purchase within an online game. A pioneer in Persuasive Design is B. J. Fogg, who also runs Stanford University’s Behaviour Design Lab as a founder and is deeply involved in how computers can transform and influence our thinking and actions.
As a designer I feel a certain satisfaction that your own subject is finally taken seriously, as every person experience everyday how design can influence them in their thoughts and actions. But what potential does it open up for us designers? “Design for President” or bust?
Fogg claims: Today we can create machines that change people’s thinking and actions, and these machines can do that autonomously.
Design is the process from an existing one to a desirable one, said Milton Glaser. No question: Design differentiates, increases brand values, drives innovation and promotes sales. But is it our desire that machines in the end autonomously manipulate us? If design has arrived at the club of the powerful as a discipline, we have a huge responsibility relying on our shoulders.
No colourful pictures finished with “making things pretty”. We designers are von Braun, Breschnew and Reagan in personal union. Then, what if Persuasive Design is actually automated by Artificial Intelligence? When, we ourselves no longer control our work, but our own creativity is influenced uncontrollably? What if our intention to put men at the centre, to make life and things easier in reality forces them offside?
Somehow it is a question of perspective and self-experienced history. For example, Tony Fadell, the father of the iPad, recently said most of the designers and coders on his team were in their 20s and had no children. Today they are parents and evaluate their actions much more critical.
I think that today, in a digital world, we have to look at the extent of our design actions on people and society across product generations. I do not think we can hide behind any briefings or instructions from Product Owners. As John F. Kennedy said: technology has no conscience. Whether it becomes a force for the good or the bad, it depends on the human being.
Given the true responsibility of our time, we need a new definition of what it means to be a designer and to design. And certainly, we have to talk about design ethics, attitude and social responsibility in the age of AI.
Originally published by PAGE online in German.
Karel J. Golta
CEO + Founder