"Beautiful Users," a new exhibition at the Smithsonian Design Museum, tells the story of user-centered design through 120 objects. From Dreyfuss' Honeywell thermostat—his archives are housed at the museum—to prosthetic limbs and app-enabled air conditioning units, the products chart this history of designing with respect to human anatomy and behavior, up through the open-source, maker culture we see today. "The phrase 'designing for people' is giving way to 'designing with people' as creative teams seek more egalitarian relationships with an increasingly well-informed public," writes [Ellen] Lupton [senior curator of conteporary design at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum], in the exhibition catalog.
MoMA curator Paola Antonelli takes on the "good girls" of design by complicating commonly accepted notions of what design is and does in the modern world. With exhibitions on video games, violence, and the beautiful lethality of everyday objects, Antonelli shows us the primary job of the curator is to provoke, not comfort.
Deborah Morrison is the chambers distinguished professor of advertising at the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication. Recently, she wrote a piece for Co.Create in which she calls on advertising people to transcend the consumption cycle and train the full might of their creative firepower on what she calls the great and wicked issues of our day. You know the ones: Global warming. Hunger. Energy. Gun violence. Mass extinctions. Overpopulation.
As I write this, Dr. Morrison and nine advertising students are in Alaska studying climate change. They’re learning how to find the stories in the science—stories that most of us would never see, and not because they aren’t compelling. On the contrary, they’re beyond compelling, the stuff of nightmares without end. The stories are there all right, but they’re mute and colorless and shapeless, entombed beneath a mountain range of data. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Data can do many things. It can prove theorems, send rockets to the stars and cure diseases of every stripe. What it can’t do is light a fire under the collective ass of society. Data can’t do that, but stories and ideas can.
Here’s what I’m saying: Although my unplanned career path turned out fine, choosing to go wide versus deep should be made consciously, not accidentally. Each path offers tremendous reward if followed with passion and commitment, but each requires different skills and approaches to be successful.
Going deep requires incredible focus, lifelong commitment to a single cause, a willingness to be patient towards achieving success, and the confidence to follow a path others may not understand or value. Whether it’s as a research scientist, designer, chef or software engineer, committing to a single discipline and pushing it as far as you possibly can holds the potential to make a significant dent on the planet.
Going wide, on the other hand, is about making connections between what you already know and what you’re curious about discovering. It requires systems thinking in order for the whole to be greater than the sum of the parts. It means developing the skills to collaborate for the purpose of learning. It’s about seeing the creative possibilities in breaking down boundaries and describing the world, your organization, the problem in new ways. It probably means having a difficult time describing to your parents what you do.
I can relate to Brown's career, mine has also been decidedly (and purposely) wide.