5 reasons why design matters: An argument for African parents, businesses & other skeptics

Last week I attended the inaugral Manchester Design Symposium (MDS), an event great for inspiration and rejuvenating creativity. As far as I could see though, I was the only black person in an auditorium of hundreds and it’s likely that I was the only African too.

It had me questioning why. Is it geography? Are there just not enough black/African designers and people interested in design who live in Manchester/who heard about the event/who were willing to pay for the event? Or does it have something more to do with our culture? Are there just not that many black/African people who are exposed to design as being a viable profession or worse, are there just not enough black/African people willing to go against the grain enough to pursue a career in the creative industry?

It’s a sad state of affairs when we all see and enjoy the products of innovation and creative talent coming from Africa and its Diaspora yet, we aren’t encouraged to be innovators and creatives who can continue this legacy.

So I decided to share 5 strong cases for design:

1. Design is everywhere.

Everything you see, touch and  use, has been designed. Whether by another person, by a greater force or being or, even by yourself. There are several ways in which design is employed to solve problems and improve the way things work and the ways we live our lives. From how we eat to how we move through spaces; from what we wear to how information is communicated to us.

2. Design enables the realisation of our ambitions and dreams.

MDS speaker and successful brand strategist, Tom Dorresteijn, talked a lot about the relationship between design and strategy. Oftentimes, strategy is held in such high regard and I wonder if that’s because the workings of it are easier to understand. It’s almost formulaic whereas the design process is a comparatively mysterious process. There are no guaranteed steps to finding the best design solution. Instead there is talk about inspiration and imagination. Dorresteijn asserted that strategy is merely “the verbal account of ambitions and dreams … design makes them happen.” He even went as far to suggest that “good designers are far better strategists than the strategists themselves.” And yet appreciation and salaries are rarely commensurate with this fact.

3. Design creates higher profits.

Ultimately a lot of the arguments against are inspired by thoughts of money. Design is seen as a nice-to-have, as simply embellishment that is not capable of much return on investment. Because design is not valued appropriately, to want to be a designer is seen as a desire to forever be a resident of the poorhouse. Rarely do people look at empirical evidence. Design has transformed companies by increasing sales, improving brand awareness and indeed brand value, plus so much more. Here is an article from the UK’s Design Council on ten ways you can profit from design.

4. Bad design can have serious negative effects.

From ambiguous ballot papers that have resulted in the wrong candidates staying in power to poorly-designed structures whose collapse has directly costed human lives. Bad design is not merely a shame, it can cause catastrophe. So why is design something that is so often taken so lightly?

5. Design can touch both brain and heart

Tom Dorresteijn, made one of

the simplest, truest and most profound statements that day: “If you want to have success, don’t go for the brains, go for the heart.” The context of this affirmation was to make a case for the value of design and the suggestion was that design had the power to be emotive and turn people on. The brilliant thing is, design has the power to do this as well as to make you think. Design can touch both brain and heart and that’s phenomenal.

So if design is this pervasive, important and powerful, surely we need more good designers to make it happen?

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