This article argues that designers are currently not able to effectively address contemporary environmental and social problems due to the systemic priorities of the design industry. Despite the fact that emergent cognitive and perceptual capacities enable a greater understanding of complexity and design practice evolves creating potential for social and technological innovation, the structural dynamics of the design industry reproduce conditions of deep unsustainability. In this article,“design” is theorized as the professional practice of creating new products, buildings, services, and communication. This is a broader practice than the work that is produced within the “design industry.” The design industry operates according to highly reductive feedback generated by capitalism that systemically ignores signals from the ecological and social systems. The exclusive focus on profit and quantitative economic growth results in distortions of knowledge and reason thereby undermining prospects for the design of long-term prosperity. Redirected design practice could be an antidote to this dilemma by transforming the system that determines what is designed. This article provides an overview of the political and economic dynamics that are relevant to designers concerned with sustainability.
Published in Design Philosophy Papers, Volume 12, Number 2, December 2014, pp. 119-136(18)