Links and articles about technology, design, and sociology. Written by Rian van der Merwe. Follow @RianVDM
Making Meaning: a review of Distance 02
What we create today will become the baseline for future generations. In the future, explorers will find our technium cave, filled with the artifacts of our present. What will they find in there? What will our creations tell them about what was meaningful to us? I can only hope it’s not what I see today. I know it can change, and I hope you see it too.
This is the theme that echoes through Distance 02, a collection of three essays on the topic of “Extracurriculars” — how to take ourselves out of the daily grind and think more clearly about how the things we make impact the world around us. It’s a topic that I see more and more designers touch on, starting with Wilson Miner’s excellent When We Build talk, all the way through Frank Chimero’s The Shape of Design, parts of Mike Monteiro’s Design is a Job, and smaller essays like Dmitry Fadeyev’s Moral Design. I’ve also touched on this before:
I wonder what would happen if we felt the weight of responsibility a little more when w’re designing. What if we go into each project as if the design will be around for 100 years or more? Would we make it fit into the web environment better, aim to give it a timeless aesthetic, and spend more time considering the consequences of our design decisions? Would we try to design something that “makes life worth living”?
The cynic in me worries that this vitally important topic is getting a bit too trendy, which brings with it lots of attention but also hoards of Internet critics. But before the possible backlash gets into full swing there is still time to read Distance 02 and be challenged to be better designers, not just people who design things better. For example, Sharlene King urges us to do more side projects in Do Your Homework:
I believe success comes through homework: the projects we do separate from our day-to-day work, that help us live design rather than simply work in design, allow passionate designers to break through.
And in The Embedded Designer, Cassie McDaniel talks about designers’ ability to influence adjacent industries in a positive way:
While design processes are available to anyone, regular experience with the creative process makes the designer particularly adaptable to new environments. An eagerness to understand the nature of our design challenges is part of our mandate. We ask tough questions of our clients and their industries. We need to know: Why are things done this way? What problem is it solving? What can we get rid of to make this simpler? Designers are receptive to new input by definition, and that makes us inherently more malleable than other kinds of workers.
What I found pleasantly surprising about Distance 02 is that it doesn’t stick to the philosophical. There is plenty of practical advice on how to make these ideas real in our everyday design work. Francisco’s framework for measuring meaning will come in particularly handy in all my projects.
Like any publication, Distance 02 is not perfect. It buckles under the weight of its 100+ citations, which sometimes makes it hard to follow the authors’ own story threads through the essays. Either that, or I’m just very easily distracted.
But that is a small complaint, and certainly not enough to make me discourage you from reading the book in any format your heart desires. In fact, at $5 for a digital copy and $15 for print & digital, it’s pretty much a no-brainer. You can buy Distance here.