Why it is important to be a designer-if you wonder if you should not

I recently had an interesting conversation with another deeply introspective designer which reminded me of debates we had in graduate school, and concerns which I fielded ever since from students, and from nascent designers.

Essentially, it boils down to this.  The world is full of things, we are drowning in them, quite literally in some cases.  Our western system of consumption is based on intense consumerism, false need, and created obsolescence.  It is obscene and unsustainable.  And yet, sitting in gaining our design degree we felt like we were inexorably going to be sucked into supporting this machine.  How could we as thinking ethical people possibly ever become designers, we worried?

But the answer then for we grads, for my students, and for those I have mentored since, is so clear as to be impossible to see in the hyper analysis.  You who are worrying about the ethics, who fears making more stuff, not solutions, must become a designer.  Because if you do not take that spot, challenge that norm, consider a solution that is a smarter object, or a system or service instead, someone less thoughtful will fill that spot.  If you do not go out and flip the paradigm on it’s head, the system will not stop just because you stepped out of the game.  Someone who does not worry and think will take that spot and all will continue as it is.  It is much harder to be a thinker, I know too well, but that is how things change.  The people who wonder, question, challenge and say “what if?” instead of “we always,” words I hate, are the pivot points.  And if you look around at the design world right now, a lot is changing rapidly and in extremely disruptive and exciting ways.

On black Friday, a day that makes me slightly nauseous and want to run as far into the woods as I can get, this is especially relevant.  Every thoughtful designer worries about their path, their impact from time to time.  And perhaps this worry is for the best, it keeps us challenges and accountable, to ourselves, our peers and our future.  It is not easy, but it is good.