Design as a Branded Methodology

If design as a branded methodology is elevated, then other forms of generic human activity are diminished. As Irani and Silberman put it, “workers who powered these platforms appeared as exploited cogs in other people’s plans, toiling in digital sweatshops with little creativity or agency.”41 To the extent that design as brand colonizes all things – even the brainchild behind liberatory movements gets subsumed under a single approach precisely because it is set up to encompass any and everything – who benefits and to what end? Is this umbrella philosophy the one best suited for the violent storms we face?

Whether or not design-speak sets out to colonize human activity, it is enacting a monopoly over creative thought and praxis. Maybe what we must demand is not liberatory designs but just plain old liberation. Too retro, perhaps? And that is part of the issue – by adding “design” to our vision of social change we rebrand it, upgrading social change from “mere” liberation to something out of the box, “disrupting” the status quo. But why? As Vinsel queries, “would Design Thinking have helped Rosa Parks ‘design’ the Montgomery Bus Boycott?”42 It is not simply that design thinking wrongly claims newness, but in doing so it erases the insights and agency of those who are discounted because they are not designers, capitalizing on the demand for novelty across numerous fields of action and coaxing everyone who dons the cloak of design into being seen and heard through the dominant aesthetic of innovation.

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Along with this, my critical engagement with the various forms of discriminatory design in the previous pages needs therefore to question not only the “discriminatory” part of the equation but also the seeming goodness of design itself. In Safiya Noble’s incisive words, “an app will not save us.”43 The design framework often requires us to move ahead and to treat this as progress. It is also in sync with the maintenance of capitalism, even as some might push for reforms to the labor market or for the regulation of the economy. But, in the current technological environment, the quickness with which someone can design “an app for that” marvels. As Ziegler’s Appolition makes clear when contrasted with products from the growing “technocorrections” industry, the politics and purposes of design matter.