What’s the role of industrial design in a post-industrial design world?

Designers are ruining the world

Designers are ruining the world

In his recent article on Core77, Ray re-asks “are industrial designers ruining the world?”

I am an industrial designer. And this is a question that too few of us ask each other and, indeed, ourselves.

Here’s Ray’s answer:

“I can’t say that I can offer anything close to an answer.”

He then goes on to paraphrase Manzini (a prominent thinker in the sustainable design space).

It’s disappointing. Every designer needs to have an answer for this question.

Here’s mine:

Sure we are. Industrial designers are part of a very large, complex, capitalist economic system that is most likely present in the society in which most of us live. Every physical object that is not a food item, building or clothing (that may even be questionable) has probably been created (at least partially) by an industrial designer. It is impossible to suggest that they are not playing a role in ruining the world.

Of course, I make two assumptions here:

  1. that the majority of industrial design is still based on a cradle to grave model of thinking where products are created from valuable resources in the cradle , move through a life of use and ultimately end up breaking and being thrown “away” to the grave;
  2. that this model and current production and consumption patterns are damaging the natural systems of the planet as well as the social and cultural glue that binds us together.

Some designers might claim that they merely carry out the task of realising a solution and that it is the ‘corporate machine’ (or the person to whom they report) that bears responsibility. They may claim that it is ‘consumers’ who are responsible because they demand that designers create products to fulfil their needs.


Every designer has access to an incredible tool; a brain. With this tool, designers can think. They can make decisions to do or not to do. The power is phenomenal.

In light of this, the original question can be seen as pretty irrelevant.

The Role of industrial designers in a post-industrial world

In the discussion that follows Ray’s post, commenter Idil (Dr. İdil Gaziulusoy) poses another question:

“What’s the role of industrial design in a post-industrial design world?”

This question is much more useful because it requires designers to use their creativity and ability to access that brain to answer a complex question.

I’m working on an answer for that one. You should be too.