Can We Design 2050?

Much of what I read warns that “green shoots” talk of economic recovery is feel-good propaganda, that the classic liberal economic growth model of industrial capitalism needs radical re-engineering, that Western-style production and consumption demanded by 9-10 billion people would require four to five Planet Earths to support, and that we are entering a period of calamitous social upheaval as a consequence.

When the drumbeat of dire prognoses becomes too incessant, alarm turns to numbness. The way designers deal with the anxiety of uncertainty is to start designing. We believe, like Herb Simon, that the way to work on ill-defined, “wicked” problems is what he first labeled Design Thinking … to begin doing stuff even if you are not sure you know what or why you are doing it. Just go in anywhere, says Simon, start working your way through stochastically, hypothesize and test, trial and error, and you will discover the shape and boundaries of the problem.

The work I am doing these days has to do with taking an imaginative leap into intentional, designed futures (so-called “normative” futures) and backcasting to what has to happen starting Monday morning to bring those futures into being. Trusting that this is somehow a useful thing to do might appear to some to lie somewhere between childish fantasy and shamanism. But that trust also comes from experiencing the effectiveness of Design Thinking for developing products, services, communications, environments, organizations and new ventures – and in more recent years at larger scale, developing strategies, plans and systems for organizations involved in education, health care, sustainability, philanthropy and national economic development.

Is it a leap of faith is to believe that the designer’s way of going at things can work for complex socio-technical systems at very large scale?  Yes. But here goes, because it is the only way to find out.

So my colleagues and I are working on VISION 2050 for the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. 

We are also working with the World Economic Forum’s Global Redesign Initiative.

And I am working with DesignSingapore and the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design (ICSID) on DESIGN2050, the theme for ICSID’s World Congress taking place in Singapore in Nov. 2009.

Click here to read the scenario I imagine for the possible future of the DESIGN2050 initiative.

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