5 minutes with... Cennydd Bowles
Head of Design
3 minute read
Meet Cennydd - designer, futurist and author of Future Ethics, who will be giving the closing keynote at Camp Digital 2019. We caught up with him to talk about the moral obligations of designers and his stance on readying large teams for organisational change.
At Camp Digital, your talk is about ‘Building Better Worlds’. Can you tell us a little bit more, why it’s important and what the audience can expect?
Our future is crawling with seductive dystopias: surveillance, nationalism, autonomous warfare, the climate crisis. Meanwhile, the design industry has become obsessed with operational efficiency, modularisation, and detail. This is completely the wrong direction. I want to impress that we have a moral obligation – as individual designers and as a community – to discard these minutiae and focus on the issues that may otherwise destroy us.
You have worked with some of the world’s biggest brands including the BBC, Twitter and Ford. What are some of the biggest achievements you’ve had working with those companies? And the biggest challenges?
Most large companies seem to be motivated chiefly by fear of certain competitors. I like to think in my time with these teams that I’ve encouraged them not to be frozen in those particular headlights, and instead to focus on their distinct customers and values, creating their own futures in that image. There’s also a more personal aspect. Emotional energy is a precious resource within large teams; if I can help recharge people for the long, difficult work ahead, my time has been well spent.
Of course, change in any organisation is slow, and any designer can really only help one company at a time. This is why I try to spread my message through writing, teaching, and speaking. Camp Digital will hopefully give me a chance to energise a broad and eager audience.
Ethical design and technology is something you’ve discussed at length. What makes you so passionate about this area of the industry?
It’s tempting to gesture wildly at what’s all around us: the slew of ethical mistakes the industry has been making, and the negative swing in the press and public sentiment that’s resulted. But more positively, I think neighbouring fields can offer some answers if we care to look.
I’m excited to bring ideas from futurism, speculative design, science fiction, and modern ethics into the world of digital tech, and see how they might transform our practices. I’m driven as much by our potential as our failings.
Your book, Future Ethics, came out last year – what’s the best piece of feedback you’ve had from readers?
‘I want a few million copies of this book to be crop-dusted over Silicon Valley’ was flattering, not to mention potentially lucrative. Generally, I’ve been thrilled by readers’ appetites for a serious, intelligent book on the challenges ahead. It gives me confidence that the industry is ready to shed its flimsy ‘move fast, break things’ reputation and take proper responsibility for the social impact of its work.
What are you most looking forward to at Camp Digital?
Jonny’s talk on The Death of Intent sounds intriguing. He claims ‘It’s mostly about death’: that’s an entirely relevant topic for the future we’re spiralling towards. I’ll also be involved in the Tech for Good Live panel, so am looking forward to injecting some lively disagreement where appropriate.
Cennydd's talk, "Building Better Worlds" was the closing keynote at Camp Digital 2019. You can still watch his talk on our YouTube channel.
In the beginning, the ending was beautiful. Early spring everywhere,
the trees furred pink and white, lawns that sharp green that meant new.
The skies so blue it looked manufactured.
We had heard the cherry blossoms wouldn't blossom this year but what was one epic blooming,
When even the desert was an explosion of verbena.
When bobcats slinked through primroses
When coyotes slept deep in orange poppies.
One New Year’s Day we woke to daffodils, wisteria, onion grass, wafting through open windows.
Near the end, we were eyeletted, we were cottoned, sun-dressed and bare-foot.
At least it's starting gentle, we said, an absurd comfort, we knew,
a placebo but we were built like that, built to say at least,
built to reach for the heat of skin on skin, even when we were already hot.
Built to love the purpling desert in the twilight,
built to marvel over the pink bursting dog woods.
To hold tight to every pleasure even as we rocked together towards the grain.
Even as we held each other, warmth-to-warmth and said - sorry.
I'm sorry, I'm so sorry.
While petals sifted softly to the ground all around us.
There is no such thing as the future. There are, instead, a near infinity of
potential futures, the road as yet untravelled, stretches before us in abundant directions.
We get to choose the route.
There is no fate but what we make. Now, of course some of those routes are
more dangerous than others. Some futures are better than others.
On many of these horizons, digital dystopias loom large.
Our chosen future may feature facial recognition, a technology which today is being used by
police to survey all citizens, despite a false-positive rate above 90%.
A technology touted as a way to detect sexual orientation,
or even to identify potential criminals or terrorists before they strike.
So, maybe our chosen future will, with facial recognition technology,
offer up some macabre and dangerous digital resurrection of phrenology,
where our appearance alone is evidence of criminality or some other abhorrence.
Where every camera is a tool is of total surveillance, building a map of our movements,
of our friendships, of our emotions.
Or perhaps our chosen future will be shaped by
autonomous weapons, there are international efforts to ban these,
but the progress is patchy. Exactly the countries you would expect are
dragging their heels, over this. There is a good chance we will face a
future in which autonomous weapons, we believe them to be abhorrent and
unacceptable right up to the point in which our enemies deploy them
and then we find a new arms race begins.
Or maybe, as in, the design fiction slaughter bots, a rogue group will use
cheap autonomous drones to terrorise society.
The good news is that these particular dystopias are elected.
There is nothing inevitable about these dark futures.
We can restrict, we can regulate. We can abandon these projectories.
The bad news is that there is one dystopia that stretches across all possible futures.
And that, of course, is climate change.
Thanks to the lag between emissions and impacts, and the awful physics of our immense atmosphere,
it is certain that things will get worse for decades, before they get better.
The punishment is in the post.
The only question now is: How bad things will get.
For years climate scientists have rather had to tiptoe around the topic,
that couched their language, they have been wary of being labelled alarmists.
Well, we're now realising at last, that alarmism is fully justified.
The opening sentence of David Wallace Wells' book, The Uninhabitable Earth,
opens with a punch to the gut: "It is worse, much worse than you think."
Our climate trajectory is going to be decided within the next couple of decades.
We at least get to choose our own Apocalypse.
Compared to global preindustrial temperatures,
maybe we will end up with just 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming.
This is a figure that we all know, it's the intended limit of the Paris Accord.
But even this figure will see five million square kilometres of permafrost melted by 2300.
It'll see half of the world's population facing severe heatwaves every 20 years.
It'll leave 130 million people exposed to severe drought
and it will create by some estimates, an 8% drop in global GDP per capita.
Now this 1.5 degree target unfortunately, is almost certainly lost, we are at about 1.1 already.
The US, as we know, has withdrawn from Paris, Brazil is threatening to follow suit.
And those who remain, signed up, are falling far short of their pledges.
Maybe we will end up with 3 degrees,
At 3 degrees of warming we can expect extended droughts, crop failures
and significant geopolitical breakdown.
The promise of the eternal growth age was one of positive sum benefit for everyone.
Some profit more than others, sure, but generally the curve only goes up.
It seems impossible this mentality will survive the huge productivity and
output losses that happen at 3 degrees of warming.
So, the implication then, is clear: In place of these at least theoretical
positive sum systems, will revert to zero sum systems, isolation, nationalism, resource force, if you win, I lose.
The UN world meteorological org, they say 3 degrees is probably where we end up,
if countries immediately stick to their Paris pledges.
A senior anonymous member of the IPCC, sees 3 degrees as a likely minimum.
A 5 degree future is almost unimaginable.
Facing temperatures, last seen 55 million years ago,
major global cities, Osaka, Shanghai, Miami, Jakarta, virtually wiped out.
Much of Middle Eastern Asia, uninhabitable,
The Hajj pilgrimage, for example, would be a physical impossibility.
Large areas of mainland Europe would be turned into desert.
Canada and Siberia would become among the planet's less fertile lands.
The recent Syrian crisis expelled some five million refugees
and their arrival into Europe pushed the continent into the hands
At 5 degrees of warming, we can expect around 20 times that number of climate refugees.
Put simply at five degrees of warming, human society devolves into a naked fight for survival.
Sadly, five degrees may be where we are headed without urgent reduction in emissions.
This time we are the asteroid.
And in recent years I have become known as a vocal person in the field of technology ethics.
I have no doubt at all in saying, that climate is the moral issue of our generation and probably our century.
Now I'm not saying that other tech issues,
like algorithmic bias or addiction or privacy, I'm not saying that these things are unimportant,
they deserve our attention but I feel some of these concerns,
are rather like worrying about cholesterol while we're clutching a stab wound.
If we fail on climate, human suffering will become the dominant theme of the coming decades.
Because climate will exacerbate all the injustices of our world,
racism, oppression, poverty, war.
It will become a damoclean backdrop to all future generations.
Since World War II, we have had this great acceleration, this huge increase in standards of living,
across most of the world, almost all predicated upon burning fossil fuels, this is an addictive lifestyle.
It will be extremely hard to give up.
We will hold tight to every pleasure, even as we rock together toward the grain.
But whether you believe modern society as we know it now,
whether you think it is a force for good or not, is frankly immaterial,
it cannot and will not last, it cannot and will not last.
Now in an abstract existential way, I think anyone who is paying some attention knows this,
but when you really assess what it means,
the personal living experience of this upheaval, it is an agonising realisation.
Boy, does that abyss, stare back.
This change requires nothing less than mourning,
we have to grieve for this familiar way of life.
We have to go through those familiar steps, denial, anger, bargaining, depression,
before we get to acceptance. Hopefully we do that quickly,
while there is still time to create something better on the other side.
But I think this gnawing loss is even more difficult for people like us, for designers,
because of course, we have been entirely complicit, we are partly responsible for this coming crisis.
In 1971 Victor Papanek savaged designers for their contributions to environmental degradation.
There are professionals more harmful than industrial design, he said but only a few of them.
It is tempting to think that doesn't apply to people like us, to the world
of digital work, after all we deal in abstractions of pixels and information,
we are not the people creating landfill and pollution.
But I don't think that distinction holds, we don't get to wriggle off that hook of responsibility.
Just ask the software engineer who cheated Volkswagen's emissions tests.
Or the airline scrum team, using dark patterns to sell more unnecessary flights.
We live in a hybridised era where products and experiences are
increasingly digital and physical and of course, the technologies we build
most of them run on electricity often from dirty sources.
The greenhouse gas emissions of data centres are now equivalent to those of the entire aviation industry.
So we have to examine our approaches and the values that we hold dear.
Our thirst for exemplary user experience has created upgrade cycles that are among the most
aggressive in all of consumer goods, people buy a new phone every couple of
years in pursuit of the latest hot app. They buy IOT devices with unreplaceable batteries.
With obsolescence built in as a design principle.
Indeed perhaps the very idea of user centred design is part of the problem,
We trained ourselves to focus with laser like precision on the needs of the user,
helping the user achieve their goal, sadly that goal a lot of the time is to buy more,
consume more, emit more, everything more, more, more and that precision has blinded us.
For years, we have overlooked the unintended consequences of our work,
the harms that might fall on people who are not users,
that might fall on neighbourhoods, communities, ecologies.
User experiences is a dream come true for an individual but a potential nightmare for society.
We should of course start to address these issues but unfortunately,
I see our industry going in completely the other direction.
The main trends that I see in digital design today
centre on effectiveness, design systems, they are about making the modern team more scalable,
more efficient, or in other words, making the modern team
more compliant and acquiescent to business as usual,
the exact same scorched earth growth hacking business as usual,
that's dragging us to the five degree catastrophe.
Even the tech ethics movement has fallen into habits of
focussing on trivial and surface level stuff.
This has been critiqued brilliantly by Os Keyes, Javin Hutson and Meredith Durbin,
they're three scholars at the University of Washington.
And they proposed a paper for Chi, if you don't know, it's a very significant academic HCI conference
and in this paper, they talk about a hypothetical algorithm that
decides which senior citizens are selected to be mulched into high nutrient slurry and fed to the living.
The authors analysed this problematic algorithm. They suggested changes to reduce its inherent biases,
just as the literature on algorithmic ethics suggests.
And just with these simple ethical tweaks, we now have, according to the authors, a way that we can be sure that
elderly people are selected for being processed into high nutrient slurry and
fed to the living in a far more fair, accountable and transparent manner.
We are squandering our global responsibilities on minutiae and trivia;
we are stoking the engines more efficiently as the ship is going down.
So where would our time actually be well spent, what can we do to tackle this crisis at the proper level?
The climate crisis, it requires interventions
from every aspect of society, it needs protesters,
it needs organisers, regulators, voters, scientists, but there are plenty of
personal tactics we can deploy as well. Here are some.
But I am not going to go into these. This isn't really the right forum to do so.
Maybe take a photo if you are interested and reflect yourself.
There will soon be more information at the URL at the bottom.
But I do have a couple of comments on this list before we move on.
Here we have a mix of changes that are individual, personal changes, and changes or suggestions
that are intended to create some kind of system-level response
and we will come back to that dichotomy shortly.
But suffice to say one danger of the modern world and its atomised nature is
that it tends to individualise problems.
It tends to privatise, this guilt for us to bear, alone.
Individual action on its own won't really achieve much,
but if you personally feel driven to change your own habits and
I think many of us perhaps should, then these may well be good starting points.
There are also useful professional tactics, of course.
But again, maybe a surprise, I don't really want to go into these too much either.
I don't want to provide just a checklist for how we can try to tackle this problem.
I want to try and do something else here,
I want to talk about a new role for design amid the chaos.
How designers can lift our eyes to the horizon and inspire change that's more fundamental than this.
Because I think we do have plenty that we can offer.
The technology industry holds an enormous amount of power,
more than perhaps any other group, we get to depict and to realise what happens next in our world.
You could argue that power is hardly warranted
and it's also been bestowed upon us with far too little oversight and
that's true and frankly, that should scare us a little bit but I think also the onus
or even the moral obligation is on us to wield that power positively, to try to build better worlds.
I think designers in the tech industry also have remarkable power.
Now that might be hard to see, I think, from the inside,
we get browbeaten by imposter syndrome, by KPIs, we get smothered by the juggernaut of
product management and process orthodoxes of agile and lean start up, but none of that really matters.
The superpower that designers have, the talent that equips us to make meaningful contributions
on tackling the world's biggest problems, is we make futures visible.
Society struggles to think intelligently about the future I think,
because it is a thought interment. We are asking people to imagine what
might happen next and then to make decisions based on that hallucination.
Design can make this more real. We can paint a picture of what
various futures might actually look like.
We can do that by making products, of course,
but we can also create speculative objects that invite discussion and inspire change.
We can prototype a world yet to come.
In the emerging field of speculative design, these artefacts are sometimes called design fictions.
Sometimes they are designed objects themselves.
This is the transparent charging station by a Dutch firm called
The Incredible Machine and I have seen this, it is a great big whacking prototype,
trying to explore what charging infrastructure for
electric vehicles might look like in a decade or two.
And what's interesting about this is they have actually,
the designers have used this design fiction to
ask deep moral questions as well, how do we avoid the potential inequalities
that might result from a system like this?
They prototype the RFID cards you might use to authenticate the system
They come with different social statuses. A doctor, for instance, has potentially priority
within the system whereas a recent offender might find their energy use is capped.
So we can create these objects to invite that discussion,
to pre-empt it if you like, or sometimes we need to tell a
design fiction as part of a wider and larger story in which case designers compare
with writers and filmmakers, comic strip artists, anyone really who can build hypothetical worlds
in which these designed objects feel at home.
This is a film called Frames.Directed by Fahrad Paktel and written by Madeline Ashby.
I think it's a remarkable piece of design fiction.
This unnamed woman, essentially, pushing against the seams of total surveillance using mysterious generosity.
Works like Frames for me help to make the future feel more real, the hidden becomes more visible.
So they help people experience and
to feel what would otherwise be these hypothetical situations.
And that means it's easier for people to understand what might happen next.
We might say it improves people's temporal literacy and their ability to read and understand potential futures.
Why is this so important, well for me it's because people can then have a fairer say,
The future comes to the people.
It's no longer the domain of professionals and nerds like ourselves.
The public gets to approve or push back against any particular future.
We are talking about experiences here,
designing experiences and so this should make us happy,
this is something within this room we are pretty good at.
But today's practices for me I see that they are near term and generally supportive
of these Silicon Valley ideals of bringing products to markets, users to consume.
This new role for design is a bit different. It's speculative, it's not just focussed on delivery.
It's critical, it's not just playing along with a dominant ideologies.
It's focussed on the wellbeing of society and of the planet, not just the success of the user.
Designers will always have to be
involved in giving birth to new technologies, we don't stop doing the stuff on the left hand side here.
Hopefully those technologies become more sustainable and more just technologies.
But I think it's crucial that we start to
balance those delivery mind sets, with new modes of design,
speculative design, critical design, longterm futures thinking.
Because our futures particularly those that are influenced by climate, are full of
maybes and perhapses, they really invite that kind of speculative approach.
Some of these futures, some of these frictions we tell will be dystopian,
we saw slaughter bots at the beginning here, that dystopia of autonomous weapons.
This is mitigation of shock by a London speculative design studio called Super Flux
and they prototyped a London flat from 2050, built to cope with the awful impacts of climate change.
It is a kitchen sink dystopia of desperate attempts to cultivate food, complete with a recipe for fox creole.
Those sorts of dystopias, they have value, this is a fine piece of work.
Things like this can alert people to the dangers to the risks ahead and
they can challenge some of the decisions that we take today, decisions that look innocuous,
but then when taken to some harmful extreme, soon become anything but.
So dystopias can create this appetite for evasive action, I suppose.
But dystopias are also somewhat limited.
They can motivate change but they can also paralyse and ostracise,
they can cause inaction, they can cause us to belive there's nothing left that we can do.
That kind of fatalism is particularly dangerous when it comes to climate.
It will cause us to withdraw from the problem, to focus on coping rather than fixing.
It is the realm of the so-called eco-fascist movement
who's solution to climate is to close the borders and instil marshal law.
Or the billionaire preppers who are planning their escape to cabins in the woods or to Mars,
whichever one it is, there are lots of guns involved in that scenario.
So I think these cautionary tales, these terrifying fables,
they have some value to help break down our comfortable cosy narratives.
But we desperately need new stories, that depict a better world to come.
Positive visions that inspire us.
I'm not necessarily talking about Utopias, we have plenty of meaningless Utopias already.
Something like this Microsoft Vision video, that's just a mere extension of where we are right now.
There is no message here, except that the status quo will accelerate.
Work and productivity and capitalism will be flung on to any available surface.
And of course, there are dangerous Utopias as well.
Political extremism has often come from Utopia, the idea of perhaps a purity of bloodline
or of the infallibility of the state or of the church.
I think what we need instead are meaningful, realistic, imperfect but compelling visions,
visions that make us dream that we want to help navigate toward.
Visions like Solarpunk. Solarpunk is a part a literary movement,
it's part a collaborative work of design fiction, part a protest group, part fan fiction,
all trying to answer the question: What does sustainable civilisation look like and how do we get there?
Solarpunk focuses on what they call, infrastructure, as a form of resistance.
These are societies built with resilience for whatever futures ahead of us throw at us.
With independence rather than isolation, with community ingenuity,
not this top-down Messianic control.
And I think, as a result, they are more compelling than other punk suffixed movements that we see around.
This is optimistic, compare it to Cyber Punk with a deeply nihilistic attitude.
It is futuristic, compared to steam punk and regressive nostalgia.
And that for me is the power of these positive visions.
A dystopia gives people something to run away from.
Better futures give people something to run toward.
And with climate we already know the solutions, we know what we have to do,
we have to cut emissions vastly, perhaps 50% in the next decade and
down to zero within maybe 20 more than that.
What we lack is the urgency and the will to make that change happen.
But we can help to create this urgency and
this desire for action by changing that narrative, this fatalist narrative, twisting it around
and offering some hope on the other side.
That mourning that I talked about is vital, but we also need hope on the other side to
drag people through it, and on to make positive change.
Hope is a political cliché and also a climate cliché, if you read any climate literature
there always has to be a section, an uplift at the end to say -
we still have some time to change this.
Some people disagree and say the hope is gone; I refuse to believe that.
Hope for me is a way for me to cling to our humanity,
to inoculate ourselves against fatalism.
The intention, the hope behind hope, if you like,
is, of course, that it drives some change, but what sort of change do we really want?
Do we want to prioritise change within individuals, or change within the overarching system?
And this is almost a holy war, in any complex system or any community like
the climate or ethics community. It is also rather politicised.
The right tends to lean on individual responsibility taking ownership of your own actions,
the left tends to believe that systems sort of
overwhelm all that stuff, so really, we need to focus there.
But, surely the only meaningful response is to do both.
When you see the iceberg right ahead, carving off from a doomed glacier, you throw every engine into reverse.
In truth, I actually think that is a false dichotomy, they both affect each other.
The systems at play on the right here are economic and political.
They are hard to directly attack. They really only change with
external pressure from voters, from consumers, donors.
Fortunately, with climate there is now some evidence that building this kind of pressure
and support is easier than we once feared.
For example, friends and family play a huge role in shaping individual beliefs.
This astonishing study was published a couple of weeks ago
and the conclusion of this paper was - essentially that differences in
beliefs and attitudes around climate are much smaller if people have close friends
and family who care about the topic.
Researchers call this "high social consensus"
the green bars on the right.
These are the individuals who have people around them who cared about climate change.
And even the simplest belief - is global warming a phenomenon?
There is a huge increase in agreement or support for that hypothesis, even amongst self-described
Conservatives in the US who have typically been very resistant to these ideas.
Huge increase just as close friends and family express an interest in the topic.
We find this effect across the most important questions on climate,
that it is caused by humans, that we should worry about the topic.
And that we should regulate carbon dioxide, for example, as a pollutant.
These are remarkable findings. I think they are promising findings
for people like us who are wrestling with these wicked problems.
This suggests the concern and the hope are contagious, even the most
ardent opponents can be challenged and views changed.
I think we should feel emboldened by research like this.
Most importantly, for me, the study suggests that the real picture is
something a bit more like this, individual change snowballs into collective change.
And collective change has a real chance of
permeating these structures, these systems that have otherwise been impenetrable.
These economic and political systems. Just this morning the UK Government announced
that we are going to aim for net zero emissions by 2050.
This is great news but I'm pretty sure they wouldn't have done that without the
recent extinction rebellion protests which have helped to permeate this collective consciousness.
So, this gives me at least some renewed hope that we can make systemic
change by inspiring individuals and by inspiring collectives alike
by helping them to see brighter futures.
Now, to do that, designers need new skills.
We need to learn from or partner with the artists, the writers, the critics, the technologists,
already in this kind of space. We will need to improve our knowledge of
- maybe we will call them the narrative arts - of writing, story-telling, film-making.
We will need to better-understand the worlds of futuring and foresight.
We need to increase our political and ethical literacy and dive ever-deeper into
that complex world of systems thinking.
But I think our mindsets have to change along with that.
Particularly, I think we have to learn to replace the crutch of empathy with genuine inclusivity.
It's not going to work if we just imagine from afar what it might be like to live
in a developing nation that is at risk most from climate change.
We should instead involve those communities, empower them to create their own
positive visions and solutions. Decolonising our design practices,
dropping this pretence that we can just step into someone else's shoes.
I think we need to develop and build understanding, intuition for where we may be headed towards harm,
where the old patterns of design may be undermining our best efforts at reform.
If I may, I will offer a few thoughts on that myself.
If your work is predicated upon endless growth,
if you have not stopped to consider the potential harm your work might be doing,
if you are focussed entirely on shareholder value,
if you treat people as means and not ends, if you spend weeks on onboarding for your product
and don't give a fig about the end of life,
if you try to increase inessential consumption or
productivity or prosperity and not without considering wider social well-being,
if you focus just on the best case, and not every case,
if you rely upon complex physical supply chains stretching the globe and of course
if your work doesn't make you proud,
then you might just be contributing to climate crisis and, likely, other injustices as well.
Now, many of these are political points and it has become a modern cliché to say that
design is and always has been political. But it is true.
It maybe that it has appeared not to be over the last couple of decades but
that's only because it is aligned invincibly with the default politics of the time.
The supposedly non-political design that
we have practised all this time is the same design that is now taking us towards climate dystopia.
And similarly, design has always been ethical.
Because when you design, you are making a claim about what should be,
what should happen next, about how we should live in years to come
and simultaneously we are discarding,
we are throwing away thousands of alternative futures.
So, ethics and politics have always weaved their way through our work and through each other.
Politics essentially acts as a moral multiplier.
So, this ethically and politically-loaded work,
it is going to be a challenge to quite a lot of people.
It will upset and scare people. Particularly our corporate peers,
the very people who we try to impress, who we have learned to trust design as
essentially a competitive advantage all this time.
They will tell us that speculative or critical design are incompatible with a
way that we want to run our businesses and, of course, that is the whole point of it.
Tech companies have tried, for decades now to cling to
some semblance of neutrality on critical issues, so scared of alienating half the user base
or of upsetting regulators or politicians but
I think the present crisis shows that simply is no longer sustainable.
If in doubt, your loyalty now has to be to the world and not to your employer.
Speaking personally, I don't want a seat at the table. I want to flip that table.
Now, of course, I say that from a position of significant privilege.
As an independent, and senior member of the industry,
I don't answer to anyone. I have the luxury to be able to make
bold statements like that while stood on stage. Not everyone else has those advantages and
I would never criticise anyone who doesn't feel able to take that strong a stand.
But I will say this:
If you feel safe and comfortable and respected within your job, within your industry,
within your career, then you are in the perfect position to use up just a bit of
that goodwill to push for the change that we urgently need.
We shouldn't be dissuaded from the magnitude of that fight.
Our peers in technology will tend to fall back on technological solutions to climate.
We can expect to see a lot more progress in geoengineering,
people trying to spray aerosols in the air to reflect the sun's rays or carbon capture schemes, things like that.
These may well help and may well be part of the solution.
But any new technology will come with a set of unintended consequences which may be just as bad.
They can't be the only solutions. The future needs people like us,
people who excel at behaviour, at systems thinking, of analysing problems
to really identify and address the root causes.
I think these speculative and critical and future-leaning approaches will help us to make valuable contributions.
I'd say design's most important role today is to help us survive the century.
Given the magnitude of the challenge ahead of us, I don't think that's a melodramatic statement.
Hopefully we can address that with more sustainable products but also with
these new modes of design, that help people imagine, to feel and experience a better world to come,
that mobilise people for individual and collective and systemic change.
And we have got to do it quickly. Alex Stefan, a climate campaigner, has this
fantastic and slightly horrifying quote:
"When it comes to climate winning slowly is the same as losing."
We shouldn't be under any illusions, there’s still a real chance we will lose the fight.
Maybe our weak ideologies are too strongly held.
Maybe the change that is so necessary, lies just beyond our grasp.
But even if that is how it ends up, even if those few shards of hope that
we have prove too insubstantial, we still must try.
And I find some sad and proud comfort in the words of Kelly Hayes:
"If the end really is only a few decades away, and no human intervention can stop it,
then who do you want to be at the end of the world?
And what will you say to the people you love when time runs out?"
If it comes to that, I plan on being able to tell them, "I did everything I could."