Design Schools are experiencing and will continue to experience huge upheavals. They are benefiting from real opportunities in development proportionate to the large cultural and socio-economic stakes the world is faced with today. They take a predominant place in the Higher Education field. Engineering Schools headed the field during the jubilant industrialization. Business Schools fell in behind them when the economy switched over from a production to a market economy. Design Schools, aware of the social responsibilities of designers as well as their economic responsibilities are becoming the key actors in Higher Education capable of uniting “science and conscience”, “social and economic”, “use, expectations and needs” with the aim to plan for tomorrow, a more sensible future than the present.
Design and designers have essentially the responsibility to change the world around them. At a time when the planet is threatened, when science has limitations, when the economic world is upside down, designers could have an immense responsibility. Design Schools should take their responsibility and train designers to become aware of these stakes.
Two pillars in a shattered context: globalized world and faltering capitalism
The world has become “global,” enhanced means of communication and transportation have made it accessible to all as a whole, in its “global” dimension. A language – a type of English-based gibberish, a pidgin – has made it intelligible. If this trend paves the way to more freedom, then we should see it as fruitful. If this trend helps people reach a better understanding of the Others, accept their differences and learn from their culture, then we should rejoice over it.
Economically speaking, in Western countries globalization marked the end of the industrial era that began in the mid-nineteenth century. Means of production are now being redistributed according to new patterns. Today workforce-based industries are being relocated in China and in India; tomorrow they may even start settling in lower-production-cost countries offering better profit margins. Benefits and profit margins are capitalism’s mainspring. The ongoing worldwide wealth redistribution is bound to happen / unavoidable. Entire sectors of the traditional industry are currently collapsing in Western countries. GM and Ford, worldwide symbols of the jubilant industrialization and Welfare society are undergoing great upheavals.
The well-known “assembly line” that engineers have strived to “rationalize” over time may soon reach the end of the line. “Total quality” policies have only sped up their decline process. These policies contributed to the advent of cost management, to gradually making it impossible to veer – however slightly – from the process agreed upon, to annihilating all creative potential and ultimately to place the industry in the hands of low-cost labor developing countries. For 150 years the sole concern of the most industrialized countries has been to keep becoming better and better at what they already knew how to do. But in a globalized world where competition fails to be ruled by fair practices, there is no point in improving one’s know-how ad nauseam. There is no reason why the Chinese shouldn’t do as good as we do with lesser means.
Some countries – such as the United Kingdom – anticipated the late-century industrial chaos by turning their back on their factories to favor the tertiary and financial sectors. Finance-based logics according to which money only serves financial interests without any wealth-sharing, has led the world to a terribly harmful crisis whose yet unknown aftermaths will probably be disastrous. The pound – a deeply ingrained symbol of the City – is now walking on shaky ground.
We are now coming to the bitter awareness that capitalism, this great wealth-generating economic system is, in fact and by essence totally devoid of ethical values. Because States failed to keep a strong hold on it and in the name of a liberalism too often mistaken for liberty, capitalism has solely enabled a bunch of happy few to get richer, leaving a vast majority of consumers out in the cold, frowning in frustration at not being invited to join the bountiful feast.
Capitalism must be rethought anew. State governments must reclaim their role in taming it and share the generated wealth so as to gradually fill in the gap between nations based on different societal models. Economies must strive in the service of Humankind and cease to promote the sole financial interests.
(Part 2 : Two economic opportunities to seize: green economy and social networks) – next week