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Rob Girling Q&A on 21st Century Design Manifesto

Why do a “manifesto”?

21st Century Design is an attempt at a call to action for our industry. The tone isn’t quite as vitriolic as a “manifesto” but that’s partly because the people I would vilify in order to make this more polarizing operate in a pretty different world that I don’t claim to fully understand. So for me, it’s rather an invitation for dialogue in which we declare our intentions and point-of-view.

How did this come about?

This has been a result of a long process that is still ongoing. There was a sense that we needed to explain what we meant in our mission statement to ‘improve lives by design.’ We feel like the mood has changed in the 21st century towards a more socially sustainable, long term view for us and some of our clients. We have held many internal discussions and workshops and there have been many contributors, included in gathering, documenting and analyzing the internal thinking on the subject.

What critique or points of contention have you run into when discussing 21CD?

One critique is that this is some kind of liberal, anti-commercial position because we choose to make profits secondary outcomes rather than primary. Of course, the point that we’re trying to make is that profits are implicit in any commercial endeavor and if made primary, then profits tend to distort the process of design. But I understand it can sound quite idealistic.

What do you hope to achieve with 21CD manifesto?

This is really the beginning of a long-term effort for us, we hope to engage many other peers and people from different industries to challenge and strengthen the argument. We believe it’s important to not only do your work but also to contribute meaningfully to the industry you are in and be thoughtful about your role in society. This is about our motivations to come to work every day, it’s about purpose. We also hope that over time we will come to be known as a company whose focus is on the power of design for positive outcomes.

Read the 21st Century Design paper