DRS Fellow Gjoko Muratovski has just released his newest book, Design in the Age of Change, which documents conversations between Muratovski and ten highly influential design figures – including design leaders such as Carole Bilson, Karim Rashid, Bruce Mau, Steven Heller and Don Norman – to reflect on the state of things today. In return, each one of them shares a highly personal account on why change is good. The book also features a foreword written by the president of the World Design Organisation (WDO), Srini Srinisavan, and a conclusion by DRS Fellow Ken Friedman. We asked Gjoko a few questions about his book to get some more insight into the 'age of change' the book addresses and the role of design in the 21st century.
How do you define this ‘age of change’?
In 2020, for a brief moment in history, the world came to a halt. Then, everything changed. Many things that we used to take for granted no longer applied. We experienced major disruptions to our daily lives. As if in some kind of perfect storm, so many things happened all at once – global pandemic, social inequalities, climate change, racial injustices, riots and unrests, gender struggles, and rapid advances of new technologies.
This was an unprecedented period of time in which our lives changed dramatically. In some ways these changes were temporary, and in others, permanently. In fact, the very term that we coined and embraced at the time – the new normal – is a confirmation that we as a society have realized and accepted the fact that our way of life has changed so much that it will never be quite the same.
Can you tell us a bit about the different design leaders included in your book? How were they chosen, and what different perspectives do they have on design in an age of change?
Some of the designers featured in this book are globally established leaders in the field, while others are new and emerging, yet important voices. This was done for a reason. I wanted to understand how the ‘old guard’ is affected by these unsettled times, and how the ‘vanguard’ sees this new world that is taking shape right in front of their eyes. We are going through a transitionary period right now and I felt that it was necessary to show the two sides of the same coin.
By looking to the past and reflecting on the present, my guests projected very personal images of the future that they would like to see. Some of them also shared very painful personal and career journeys. In their conversations with me, each one of them brought a unique perspective on our world today, the challenges that we need to overcome, and the ideals that we aspire to achieve. The conversations were very broad, and we covered some highly diverse topics. From the effects of the pandemic, to issues of race and gender, notions of beauty and power, technology and industry, to global and local economies, politics and privilege, and the importance of community.
What is the value of looking to the past to understand the shifting contexts of design today?
Mark Twain once said, “History doesn't repeat itself, but it often rhymes.” I find this to be true. While every past situation is different, there are always some kinds of patterns that we could recognize and learn from. There are many things that we don’t understand because they never happened to us. But similar events may have happened to generations before ours. As we wonder how to pivot, we should first see what we could learn from our past.
It is evident that we are currently undergoing through a period of some kind of historical significance. I enjoy studying history, but I am not necessarily an ‘armchair historian.’ Especially not when I am living through these events as everyone else. I didn’t want to wait to reflect on these things from a historical distance after some years go by. Instead, I wanted to record this series of events as they were unfolding. I also wanted my guests to reflect on these things as they were experiencing them at the time. I felt that this would make for a more authentic chronicle of people and events – a document produced in real time.
In this regard, you can also consider this book to be a ‘time capsule’. As future generations of designers will face challenges of their own, they will at least be able to find a record on how we were trying to address our own challenges, in our words. Maybe they could learn something from us as we were learning from those before us.
The press release states that this book is a 'A "must-read" for anyone interested in how designers and design can change the world.’ As the author of this book, what is your perspective on how design can change the world? Did working on this book give you any new insights on design and the role of design research in the 21st century?
In her review of this book, Meredith Davis noted that the designers of the 21st century have undergone an important paradigm shift in the way they approach their profession. Design has evolved “from industrial to social; physical to intangible; singular to plural; and functional to meaningful” – she pointed out. And that is true. Design is a very different field today than it was a century ago. In fact, many of the issues raised in this book would have not been considered relevant to the field of design only a few years ago. But today, they are.
This book covers so many interesting, and often sensitive topics. This is a book of broader significance; not only for designers, but also for everyone who is interested in how the world around us continues to be shaped and designed. After all, designers are the kind of people who thrive in times of change. In fact, it is their job to create change. The nature of their job is such that they have to take an existing situation and change it into a better, or a more preferred situation. Some do this by relying on their imagination and personal experiences, and some use evidence-based research to inform their work. Regardless of this, all designers seem to share an underlying belief that they can somehow make the world a better place – on a micro or a macro level.
The most important insight that I have gained while working on this book is that regardless of how dark our situation may seem at times, designers – of this generation or the previous – are optimists who always carry with them a strong sense of hope. And this is what drives them to believe that they can design a better future.