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Opinion: Richard van der Laken on why The Era of The Designer should begin now

Posted by It's Nice That,

This week Richard van der Laken, director of What Design Can Do?, which takes place in Amsterdam on Thursday and Friday, issues a call to arms for The Era of The Designer to begin…

It is time designers regain control over their own profession again. Their profession isn’t just about beauty and aesthetics. It’s also about proposing alternatives, charting new avenues, coming up with solutions for pressing social issues both large and small, breaking taboos. It is about deeds, not words; reasons why designers should take over from the administrators and start shaping their own sector themselves.

Since I started What Design Can Do, I often find myself talking to people about what exactly design is.

Well, everything is design. Except nature of course, although creationists might challenge me on that. Everything that man has touched is, in essence, designed.

On that basis, we can establish that the society in which we live is design, and that we cannot overestimate the importance of designers. That’s why the increasing emphasis placed on the creative sector in Europe is enormously welcome. In the Netherlands, the creative sector has even been identified as a spearhead of economic policy.

The more the creative sector is stimulated, the better I think it is. Creative thinking has so much to offer the world. Designers can contribute to many more fields than those with which they are traditionally associated. And demonstrating that was one of the reasons for initiating the What Design Can Do conference.

What strikes me in this context is that in the many advisory and implementation bodies set up to carry out this incentives policy, professional administrators take decisions on behalf of the creative sector. The same is true when it comes to design education. In many cases, designers are simply passive onlookers. This is astonishing, because space for personal development and unbridled creation is precisely what should set the tone in the creative sector.

Maybe it is going too far to demand that designers rule the world, although I would like to witness that happening. But at least allow designers to shape their own sector themselves. If the government really wants to take the creative sector seriously, then designers should be in control.

There is every reason for a reappraisal. The crisis that has reigned for five years has also shaken designers into life. Things will never be as they were. And that irrevocably raises a couple of existential questions. Why do I do the things I do? What have I to offer? How can I change things for the better?

Designers are posing those questions more and more often. Their profession isn’t just about beauty and aesthetics. It’s also about proposing alternatives, charting new avenues, coming up with solutions for pressing social issues both large and small, breaking taboos. It is about deeds, not words.

The beauty of it all is that designers are doers. It is in their genes. For designers, a problem amounts to an invitation, a taboo is a challenge. Designers combine conceptual and abstract thinking with idealistic visions and practical feasibility.

Everything is design. So perhaps the era of The Designer, in capitals, is now upon us. The era in which designers themselves gain control of and shape their sector. And, in the process, they can change society in partnership with government, trade and industry, consumers, users and the public. We are ready for the challenge.

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