Hallstatt, Austria – Mountain lake in camera lens. Photo by Paul Skorupskas on Unsplash

Often, as designers, we can be so focused on the minutiae of our daily work that we become unaware of the systems that we work within. This has led to the problems that we are currently reckoning with.

Reckoning
Radical changes are required within our social, economic, and political systems that can be the legacy that we leave to the next generation: organizational biomimicry that more efficiently uses resources while understanding the biological and ecological limits of capitalist consumption.

Perhaps, I should make this more personal. While I was working at a web agency, I was trying to maintain a competitive edge in my abilities as a designer by becoming a generalist as both a web designer and web developer. I took pride in the craft of design by taking on the Bauhaus approach of a better understanding of my materials to be able to innovate as a designer. As a result, our agency was one of the first movers in the responsive web design movement, and this became a point of market differentiation for our agency that led to award-winning work for the agency and recognition of our leadership in digital transformation.

Fluid 960 Grid System
If you are looking for the Fluid 960 Grid System mentioned long ago on Smashing Magazine, I have moved it to the Markup Library.
Mobile Web Workshop
Ethan Marcotte helped launch the Boston Globe’s responsive web site the same week that we presented our Mobile Web workshop.
Regent College
Domain7’s first large responsive web design project involved a redesign for Regent College, resulting in an award from Applied Arts, and establishing the web agency’s reputation for UX design and responsive design for higher-education.
Claremont McKenna College
I quickly built a static site generator with XSLT that would be able to deliver an interactive prototype and production-ready assets, building CSS with SASS as part of the asset pipeline.
The Evolution of a Designer
As a designer, I have been adapting to the social, economic, political, and technological environment for fifty-one years.

However, this moment of innovation also coincided with the corporatization of the web design industry as people made career shifts in management from the traditional public relations, marketing, advertising, and human resources management roles of larger corporations. I witnessed within our small company a growth in numbers from about a dozen people to about 50 people within the span of 6 years.

In hindsight, I would describe this growth as a form of corporate colonization that shifted the culture from one of opportunity, cooperation, and creativity to one of scarcity, competition, and dominance.

Extraction Empire
Globally, more than 75% of prospecting and mining companies on the planet are based in Canada. Seemingly impossible to conceive, the scale of these statistics naturally extends the logic of Canada’s historical legacy as state, nation, and now, as global resource empire.
Mental Models for Human Experience
Transcending human-centered design, this is design that seeks to learn from nature, to put into practice the knowledge and principles of biomimicry to reimagine and redesign our environment, to reconnect ourselves to our own humanity and to reconnect us to the earth and all living things.

As a designer, I was well-trained in the craft, as I took it upon myself to always be learning how to be adept at my work with each new technology and medium.

However, there are areas that we don’t get trained in that are essential to survival as a designer. There were no courses or instructional programs in emotional intelligence and in navigating a design career through office politics, physical exhaustion, and emotional burnout. Or if there were, I would not have known, since I was too busy learning the next wave of technologies to have time to learn to be more tactful, measured, and strategic in my interpersonal communications within the organization. I became one of the casualties of burnout because of the corporate culture shift from innovation to production efficiency that came with a more top-heavy management hierarchy.

I left the agency to pursue opportunities in design education, but I was unprepared for the shift to teaching and only set myself up for failure and burnout, while my wife was in the midst of negotiating a debilitating and life-threatening illness. This was the reason that Adrian Jean ended up writing my letter of resignation for me, when I took on the position of VP Web in the National Executive of the GDC in April of 2013 and left my teaching position at UFV in January of 2014, precipitating my premature resignation from the GDC executive at the same time.

With more time on my hands, while digging myself out of depression and burnout, I began learning more about the social, economic, and political shifts that led to the sudden death of the design career that I had been cultivating since the age of 12.

What I discovered was a corporate culture, economic system, and a hierarchy of religious, social, and political institutions designed to manipulate, control, oppress, and marginalize people.

  • Social Communication in Advertising by William Leiss, Stephen Kline, Sut Jhally & Jackie Botterill
  • Understanding Media by Marshall McLuhan
  • Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman
  • Orality and Literacy by Walter Ong
  • Temp: How American Work, American Business, and the American Dream Became Temporary by Louis Hyman
  • Winners Take All by Anand Giridharadas
  • Manufacturing Consent by Noam Chomsky
  • This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein
  • The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King
  • 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act: Helping Canadians Make Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples a Reality by Bob Joseph
  • The Calls to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada
  • The Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls
  • A People’s History of the United States
  • How to Hide an Empire: A Short History of the Greater United States by Daniel Immerwahr
  • Drilled: the history of public relations
  • Where to Invade Next by Michael Moore
  • Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein
  • The Liturgists: Woman
  • The Liturgists: Black History is American History
  • The Secret Life of Canada
  • Sandy and Nora podcast
  • Ruined by Design by Mike Monteiro
  • The Future Earth by Eric Holthaus

Now that I have discovered a role as a design mentor for UX Academy at Designlab, I have found that students value the 40 years of experience that I bring to their understanding of their place in the design industry.

Mentoring with Designlab
Since August of 2018, I have been helping people who are actively seeking a shift in their careers as they learn user experience design. Designlab is training the next generation of designers.

I have figured out how to survive as a designer, how to reinvent myself and reframe my position in the industry, and how to contribute to our understanding of the evolving role of design in society.

As governments and corporations do more with less, the responsibility of designers has grown. We maintain more of the machinery of the status quo with less of a decision-making role in the major directions of the institutions and corporations that we have built with our labour and expertise.

We have arrived, in the era of a world-wide pandemic, at a moment in human history when the presumed successor to the throne of the British Crown is speaking of a Great Reset. This, to me, sounds like permission from the highest official of our democracy to redesign everything.

HRH the Prince of Wales and other leaders on the Forum’s Great Reset
The Great Reset - the theme of Davos 2021 - is a commitment to jointly and urgently build the foundations of our economic and social system for a more fair, sustainable and resilient post-COVID future.

Thus, we have arrived at a time in which everyone in the world must recognize as an opportunity to reimagine our social architecture. In that sense, every human being on this planet is a designer as we explore how we imagine, design, and build the future together. We are a planetary builders collective, building leaders to design a resilient society.

After over 500 years of Western European colonization, this is an opportunity to gain the self-awareness to recognize our place in the universe as stewards of life within this fragile ecosystem that we call Earth.

If we recognize ourselves as a holobiont, as nested systems inside of nested systems, in a universe that is alive and interconnected at the quantum level, according to David Bohm’s ideas about integrating quantum mechanics and general relativity, then John Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis becomes a new conception of humanity’s role as the executive function of a planet-sized self-regulating organic entity.

I, holobiont. Are you and your microbes a community or a single entity? – Derek J Skillings | Aeon Ideas
Are you a multispecies mix of human and microbial bits – or is there a fuzzy boundary between you and your tiny companions?

This greater self-awareness transforms what it means to be a designer. Design thinking has been artificially constrained by our habits of colonial domination, extraction, and consumption.

For the past century, we have been so busy designing the physical world that we forgot to design our metaphysical reality, that which is beyond the physical: our social, economic, and political reality. In other words, our humanity has taken a back seat to efficiency, productivity, and economic growth. Designing for humanity and designing for resilience are the design challenges of this century.

Cultural Evolution, Social Physics, and Metaphysical Design
The spiritual vision of the Bauhaus was a faith in people’s ability to transform society for good by breaking down divisions and working together toward a common purpose.
Resilience
To become a resilient society, we need to become the heroes and protagonists of a different story. Who are we? We are a builders collective. We are building leaders to design a resilient society.

The paradigm shift has already happened for the next generation. Unfortunately, they are still waiting for adults to lead the way. The adults are still too distracted by the minutiae of their daily work to recognize the opportunity that awaits our ability to recognize it.

In the design process, we start with research to define the problem. The next step is ideation, to consider the possibilities. Then, we prototype solutions that we can test, iterating until we have new working models to replace the obsolete models of the past. Rather than fight the existing system, we create a new system. Protest has its place, but we are designers. We are problem solvers. We lead with thinking and creative, collaborative action.

Design Science Decade

The Buckminster Fuller Institute has mapped out a Design Science Decade. I propose that we adopt this proposal as a resolution for the coming decade.

  • 2020-2021: Reconciliation and Commitment
  • 2022-2023: Restoration and Capital-transfer
  • 2024-2025: Resilience and Coming-together
  • 2026-2027: Regeneration and Celebration
  • 2028-2029: Rejoicing and the Circularity
The Fuller Challenge
Starting with the whole, Buckminster Fuller anticipated future trends and needs, employed the scientific method, and aligned with nature’s operating principles. He saw that this way of thinking and doing is the future of design. He called his practice design science.

Eric Holthaus also does a good job of defining the problem and proposing a path forward in his recently released book, The Future Earth.

The Future Earth - Eric Holthaus - Paperback
The first hopeful book about climate change, The Future Earth shows readers how to reverse the short- and long-term effects of climate change over the next t...