Still looking for a new normality or already prepping for the unknown?
Read on and discover the questions that guide this year’s Tangity Directions.
Written and edited by Nilo Belonio with contributions by Ian Bower, Emanuela Cozzi, Antonio Grillo, Christoph Rauscher, Vincent Riess andDominic Quigley.
At Tangity, the global network of design studios under NTT DATA, our goal is to make complex things more relatable to people. This involves constantly examining the role of design and shaping our perspective to better understand how people, society, and the environment are evolving.
For yet another year, we are bringing forward our latest thinking here at Tangity. Every Friday, together with a group of passionate seniors, we discuss the world’s events and how these impact us, our vision of design, and how we believe the role of design needs to evolve to improve the reality around us.
To us, design is about deeply understanding complexity. Starting from the context, questioning the status quo and thinking critically to get to the root of a problem and discover all its systemic connections and interactions. What happens when the world becomes less predictable? Are different, divergent solutions desirable, then? Should we explore multiple directions?
Tangity Directions is not just another trend report, nor does it aim to be — instead it’s a collection of strategic observations based on three key lenses: human, societal, and environmental. Each is accompanied by thought-provoking questions to challenge your thinking and spark your curiosity. In Directions 23, we examine the significant societal changes of the past two years that have left us questioning what the “new normal” really means and how we can prepare for future disruptions that may be just around the corner.
While many of us keep wondering: “Have we already found our new normal?” shouldn’t we instead be asking: “What does “normal” actually mean?”
The definition of normality itself lies in the status quo. “Normal” is predictable and makes people feel at ease and secure. It invites us to stick to our routines and go on autopilot for large parts of our daily lives. But what if “normal” merely provides a false sense of predictability that we can never actually achieve as the circumstances around us keep changing in more and more unpredictable ways?
Shouldn’t we challenge this fake sense of comfort and control and start to be honest with ourselves and each other? Wouldn’t we better understand our reality as it is and improve our capabilities to react to it on the fly? What if we stopped looking for what’s “normal” and embraced our ever-changing environment, understanding the repercussions of our actions over time?
The 3 Mirages
As a society, we need to awaken from a few illusions that cloud our perception and make it difficult to grasp the context we actually find ourselves in.
So far, we’ve noticed 3 mirages pervade our minds and senses:
- The mirage of infinite resources impacting our planet and perpetuating a throw-away consumer culture;
- The mirage of endless business growth surpassing our planetary boundaries;
- The mirage of super-humans possessing unlimited powers.
#1 The Mirage of Infinite Resources
“While trying to solve sustainability issues, are we creating new ones?”
For long, there have been signs that show how humanity has been exceeding Earth’s resources. Most recently, the war in Ukraine has been making that even more apparent as we realized the country’s significance as a great exporter of grain. However, while the “rich” countries aren’t majorly affected, the countries that already face hunger are impacted the most as their already little food supply gets further challenged. As designers, our job is to change the premises of our practices and help prepare for times of scarcity.
How can we make the invisible visible and reality more perceivable to distinguish between true scarcity and perceived scarcity?
Mending skills are not only crucial to valuing what we have and fighting scarcity but can also be extremely rewarding. Just remember how it felt the last time you repaired something dear to your heart instead of tossing it to buy something new. What if these skills will be of vital importance to getting through unforeseen challenges or crises? We’re well aware that this is primarily an issue industrialized countries face since so-called developing countries simply were never in the economic position to take their natural and financial resources for granted and lose their capabilities or attitude toward them.
How can those involved in product production and design shift towards a direction that reestablishes harmony with our environment?
Are developing countries ahead in certain aspects and better prepared for uncertainty than industrialized countries? What can the world learn from them?
How does design need to shift to become more effective in creating sustainable change?
How can products make our lives more convenient without diminishing our self-sufficiency? (Think Google Maps: who can still find the way from A to B without it?)
How do we bring back the “fix-it” society that reduces the need to replace and emphasizes the satisfaction of repairing?
To turn the tide on the mirage of endless resources, we should design with constraints in mind. It helps us focus on the main problems, pushes our creative minds and boosts our improvisation power when coming up with solutions.
A good example?
Fairphone is a company that truly puts people and the planet first — one sustainable smartphone at a time. They advocate for human rights and workers’ well-being and critically analyze their phones’ impact on the climate and the planet’s delicate ecosystem. While pushing for longer-lasting products that are easy to repair, Fairphone also reduces waste and makes the most of its existing resources.
#2 The Mirage of Endless Business Growth
”What kind of growth is desirable?”
According to the Doughnut economics framework, we have already reached and exceeded our planetary boundaries. Nevertheless, while companies continue to seek double-digit growth, they don’t yet seem to have cracked the code to evolve sustainably, i.e., without depleting resources, causing pollution and causing collateral damage.
If, in theory, businesses exist to create value in the form of products and services to a community in exchange for money, the vast majority seem to have lost their way. So much so that when a company donates its business to pursue the protection of the planet, it’s met with utter shock rather than support (see Patagonia “going purpose” instead of “going public”).
Design can help reshape the growth myth by providing a more ethical and respectful approach to value creation.
How can businesses continue to deliver their services to the community while systematically contributing to positive change for our planet?
How big does a company need to be? Is there a need for society to shift to a greater set of local and regional products and services as opposed to everything being globalized?
How should we define business success in the future? Is there a way to detach growth from money and focus on greater value to society and humanity?
A good example?
Early Majority, the world’s first “degrowth” fashion brand, defines itself as an outdoor community that makes gear for its members and empowers them to enjoy it. Their aim is a managed reduction of the economy to bring it in line with planetary boundaries and meet climate goals. They do so by promoting trade-in, cleaning and repair services on all of their sustainably-sourced durable garments in order to keep them in circulation as long as possible. Their message is simple: “We need to produce less.”
#3 The Mirage of Super-Humans
“Are we able to solve the societal challenges of our planet?”
Are we living a mirage of humanity itself as well? While we’ve created a perception of humans as beings capable of anything — from designing babies and capability-enhancing pharmaceuticals to launching people to Mars — looking at the news is enough to shatter the illusion. Yes, we’ve made astonishing technical progress over the past centuries, but we are still unable to solve our societal challenges, the most urgent being the poor getting poorer and the rich getting richer while destroying the foundation of life… our planet.
We think, in order to improve our lives, we need to start a change from within. Our physical and mental well-being is influenced largely by our decisions and attitudes. While for many factors that determine our well-being, we as humans can make choices to achieve a certain level of wellness, Design can support us in making healthier choices in the first place. Both in our personal and our professional lives.
Let’s strive to become better versions of ourselves and make smarter decisions that enable us to impact both environment and society right from where we stand.
Designing well-being seems fundamental in this transition. From nutrition to seeking harmony, the balance within ourselves is critical to being mentally ready for change and motivating people to embark on this journey.
Designing attitudes should be the next step, which includes encouraging people to unlearn certain mental models and train them in perspective and systemic thinking.
We could start by asking questions like:
How can we nudge people to think systemically in their day-to-day, develop better behaviors and help them reduce their footprint?
Are the choices that we make with our food ethical?
How can we sensitize people about the actions’ consequences for the planet and society?
We believe that design firms have a duty to train their designers in ethics to reinforce the attitudes needed to become better, ethical designers with a systemic view to approach new and old problems.
A good example?
SällBo is Sweden’s way of “ending loneliness by living together” by promoting social cohesion incentives and spaces for social interaction. This new way of cohabitation tackles two generational issues at once: the loneliness older people experience and the need for students’ affordable housing.
Uncertainty and volatility have become the only constant
It’s a paradox, isn’t it?
In this year’s Directions 23, we’re questioning our beliefs and attitudes as humans concerning our limited natural resources, the need for sustainable business growth, and our capabilities to face whatever challenge may come our way.
We don’t know if we will have enough resources, if people and businesses are ready for what’s coming. So how can we contribute through design in creating a better future moving forward?
To do so, we must relearn how to build things “on the spot” without standardized protocols. This kind of improvisation skill — which we all possessed once — can shape our new role as designers. Just think back to when you were a child. You had this innate core ability to dialogue and experiment with uncertainty, which now characterizes our new reality more than ever. You had no presets cemented in your mind, but instead, looked at the world through a fresh set of eyes.
Reuniting with that child-like mindset is a gift for us adults, as it liberates us from preconceived notions and schemas that make experimenting freely oh so tricky. Nurturing this kind of unbiased creativity is essential to understanding and facing the global challenges that lie ahead.
Of course, this does not mean we should toss aside our beloved tech, which we often turn to to explore the most innovative futuristic solutions. We should focus on finding that balance between tech and our innate human strengths and look for inspiration from who have never lost their skills.
But first, we need to:
- Unlearn preset notions
By letting yourself experiment freely to find solutions on the spot.
- Master the art of improvisation
By reaching a self-assured state of mind that allows us to function without preset protocols.
- Fine-tune our antennas
By, instead of only focusing on trends, learning to interpret weak signals to quickly respond to change.
- Burst the design bubble
By developing systemic thinking that goes beyond silos and stereotypes.
- Find balance
By looking for inspiration in both humanity and technology equally.
The floor is yours!
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