Who Designs the Future?

By Lauren Selman | Bio

This may seem like a far-reaching question, but really, who is designing our future? Is it is the politicians in marble buildings, or the aspiring college students whose optimism drives them to want to change the world, or is it our unborn?

If you are like most people, you may think that designers are the people that decorate the runways of Milan, New York and Los Angeles with glamour, innovation and beauty. Yes, these are designers. But this past weekend, my focus was shifted to designers that I would have never associated with holding the element of change. These new designers look to the planet as their runway and inspire and create new systems and solutions to our present problems. These graphic artists, web artists and other visual artists came together to design our future at the internationally recognized Compostmodern Event in San Francisco, California this past Saturday.

The conference was held in downtown San Francisco and hosted by the American Institute of Graphic Artists. Now while you may think that the day would have been spent talking about typefaces, this day was different. We came together to talk about the influence of design on sustainability.

Now what does this have to do with a blog about aging? Everything and Nothing. Speaker Michael Gelobter of Cooler enrolled the audience in the question of design in the context of designing our future. He expressed how Obama has surrounded himself with a dream team of designers and how design is not limited to pen and paper but is essential to cultural change. It got me thinking, who is really designing our future? And for those of us who are not designers by profession, do we have the capacity to design?

I looked to the people at Saturday’s event as individuals who are not only responsible for designing our "stuff", but who are, more importantly, ageless, limitless and imaginative with their capacity to design what our future looks like. In the realm of design, anything is possible. Think of Leonardo Da Vinci who designed flight for man, think about Edison who designed the possibility of electricity. In our society, what would you design?

At the conference, I saw the future and how it might look:

The future of fashion might look like a student invention of Allan Chochinov’s, a professor at the School of Visual Design, who revisited the aesthetics of a prosthetic arm and designed arms that range from elegant feather art pieces for a night out at the opera to foam interactive arms for children.

The future of building may look like one of the extraordinary homes built by John Bielenberg and Pam Dorr’s HERO housing project in Alabama.

The future generation might follow the lead of Emily Pilloton, 27-year-old entrepreneur and founder of Project H that supplies an infrastructure for designers to creatively engage in projects that make a difference.

Overall, however, in the words of Saul Griffith, it was clear that sustainability needs a new soundtrack. It need a new aesthetic and needs to work…for a long time!

So how do we, as designers of the world, design our way out of the vast problems that plague our global community? How do we design a new view of aging? Design a world of peace? Design a world where the planet is our client?

If questions of design move, touch and inspire you, please feel free to watch the webcast of Compostmodern 09 for the next 30 days at www.compostmodern.org!

© 2009 Lauren Selman. All rights reserved.