A blog about universal and accessible design

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

brand new blog manifesto

So, time to write a bit about what this blog is about. This is my Right to Design Manifesto.

I chose this title for my blog that because it makes sense to me to describe the kind of design and design issues I am following. So:

- First, it is kind of a question. Do we have a right to design? That is, do we have a right to designed things that fit us, that work well, and that are comfortable? When is bad design a violation of civil rights or human rights? A sociologist met recently pointed out to me that current disability law is one of the only official avenues of citizen complaint about poor public design. Even twenty years after the ADA, though, these questions are somewhat unresolved in the terminology of “reasonable accommodation.” I think of the “right to design” as a question, a provocative idea that prods us to ask what rights are, and also how design works to provide or block access-- not just to buildings or places, but to experiences that we might define as part of citizenship.

- Second, there is “the right to design” as a verb. Do we have a right to design things, to demand to make our own world different? This part of the argument comes out of years of observing and participating in debates around sustainable, social, and universal design. A lot of designers want to integrate these alternative, progressive ideas into their practice, but they can’t because their clients are not interested, considering these approaches to be unmarketable, or because they don't pass the tests of contemporary aesthetic or intellectual design practice. I, too, have often fallen into the rut of pessimism, thinking when I see a really great prototype or student design project, ‘well, that’s great but it will never get made.”

The way design appears in our current world is as commerce. Design is fashion, is consumption, is the latest desired object. This is indeed one part of design, but it is not the only part. If we see the design world as entirely under the control of profit motives and rapid fashion cycles, we become disheartened, believing that design that responds to broader conceptions of human need and desire is just a "nice idea" that is out of reach on a practical level. One of the best responses I have seen to this feeling of skepticism and disempowerment is from the Social Design Site. In this wonderful 7-minute introduction to their project and to “social design,” this international and interdisciplinary crew assert that “We cannot NOT change the world” – everything we do changes the world. Everything makes the world different, re-designs the world.

I love this part: “We are living in a very complex world, and in everything we do, whether we are aware of it or not, we constantly shape it. We as people are constantly acting in relation to other people, and by doing so, each and every one of us creates the world we live in.” This is a pretty simple observation, yet it reminds me that we so often look at the world as “done,” already made by the people who run governments and own cranes and build bridges, tunnels, roads, buildings, appliances, clothes, and computers. Especially for people with disabilities, the world seems to be made by others, others who likely do not have much imagination about body types, sizes, strengths, and abilities in mind. For me, the “right to design” is about seeing the world as an unfinished design project with still a lot of spaces to slip a hand in and fiddle with the machinery.

Well, that's about as manifesto-y as I can get. I think this blog will vary widely in scope, examining the high-fancy-fluffy design world as well as world news and politics for questions of design and inclusion. I am new to blogging in this formal way-- please comment if you're reading and have questions, critiques, or just want to say hi.

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