31 December 2011

2011 Pivotal Moments

As I contemplate the end of 2011 and reflect on some insights for the year (as I've done previously), I've decided to share Valerie Casey's talk at the 2011 AIGA Pivot Conference as the culmination of my learning because I believe she has done a great job of framing many of the ideas that have been percolating in my head over the past year. As this year closes, this was a "pivotal conversation" I wanted (and needed) to have in order to orient and prepare me for my aspirations in 2012. I hope it does the same for you.

The 5 key points are listed below but I'd suggest that you watch the talk in full to absorb the content that links them all together.

1. Creativity makes people nervous
Valerie shares about a study that has shown how corporations are attracted to the idea of creativity while at the same time express hesitations about it that could be compared to the way society has responded to issues of gender and race.

2. We rely on China being poor and polluted
What we see in the media about China (or elsewhere for that matter) doesn't tell the whole story. Information sourced from the IMF Data Mapper suggests how the rapid growth of China requires that we must reflect on our global reality with more scrutiny.

3. Designing the artifact is meaningless unless you create the conditions for its success
Example: The Single Use Syringe

4. The democratization of design is the best thing that has happened to the profession
In these days of debate about spec work and other "design crimes," our argument needs to be that we can do something better. Because we live in a time of "nexus problems," we must move beyond these debates and think more systemically.

5. Design for scale
We need to move beyond awareness campaigns (among other things) and pursue our strengths in strategic thinking and doing.


You might read this list as five disparate ideas but I love how Casey was able to weave them together to suggest that design has more to offer in these complex times. Each point raises an issue that challenges me to consider my place in the midst of it.

Her final point was notable for me as it touched on the four stages of competence in learning. I found this to be helpful in articulating how design is at an "inflection point" that can shape what it will become as we move forward into 2012. (Ric Grefe).

The model suggests that a person will move through stages of expertise. At each stage, he or she will come to develop competence once the relevance of their incompetence has been understood. Here are the four proposed phases:

1. Unconscious incompetence: "the person must become conscious of their incompetence before development of the new skill or learning can begin"
2. Conscious incompetence: "the person realizes that by improving their skill or ability in this area their effectiveness will improve"
3. Conscious competence: "the person will not reliably perform the skill unless thinking about it - the skill is not yet 'second nature' or 'automatic'"
4. Unconscious competence: "the skill becomes so practised that it enters the unconscious parts of the brain - it becomes 'second nature'"

Notably, a fifth stage has been identified in the model. In reviewing this theory, some postulate that it is at this point that we become complacent while others suggest it is a shift toward a reflective competence, in which a person holds a conscious competence of unconscious competence and can teach others how to move forward in their own learning. This seems key as we consider Casey's five talking points.

At this stage in my work and career, I can identify where I have become complacent. I can also see where I've pursued deeper reflection. Based on this model, there are some things that I have not yet realized so I can see where this juxtaposition of consciousness and competence can bring a new level of insight and confidence to my work. The secret ingredient to moving forward with this insight? Practice: The pathway to moving toward an unconscious competence.

In the midst of this, I am also aware that even with more competence and confidence, design isn't the sole profession that will solve all the world's problems. But I do believe that it is a profession that can align itself in new arenas and connect with the systems that will benefit from its strategic inclinations. A personal highlight (and challenge) that allowed me to pursue design in this capacity was to be invited to work on a nutrition project in Rwanda. In this situation, I was made aware of the need for a different kind of engagement that moved me beyond the design of a logo, product or website in order to design something with impact.

Speaking of impact, Casey's work on Necessary Projects hits the mark of why I want to be a designer (or rather a human) today. It challenges us to be aware of the systems we share and encourages us to consider how we might work collectively to steward our resources well.

To me, this type of thinking (and acting) offers promise for an engaging 2012.

Happy New Year!

1 comment:

Mark Busse said...

Brilliant talk by a brilliant design mind.