Make the World a Better Place:
Design with Passion, Purpose, and Values
In this book, I define design broadly as purposeful actions aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones, actions that take us from where we are to where we ought to be. Using this definition, designs are not just automobiles, mobile phones, computer software, buildings, and jewelry, they are surgical procedures, school curricula, legal briefs, public policies, and community health programs. From this perspective, we live in a designed world; we are surrounded by designs that impact every aspect of our lives. These designs have both enriched our world and done great harm.
I claim that what makes our species unique is that we are all designers. While other species are evolutionarily tuned to blend in, run, or hunt, we are evolutionarily tuned to design. We are all capable of design and we all participate in designs, either directly, as their creators, or indirectly, in their use. While other species adapt to their environment, we, through our designs, adapt our environment to us. And it is through our designs that we will survive … or, if we are not good at it, perhaps not.
The basic argument of the book is that design is a fundamentally normative, moral activity, in that we take a situation from where it is to where it ought to be. Consequently, participating in the activity of design invariably entails moral consequences, whether acknowledged, intended, or otherwise. From this perspective, good designs are not judged by their functionality or aesthetic qualities, alone, but by their moral consequences. The book goes on to provide a set of universal moral principles, based on our common humanity, that can be used to create morally good designs, designs with morally preferred consequences, to reduce harm, increase happiness and well-being, advance knowledge and agency, promote equality, address injustice, and build supportive, compassionate relationships and communities.
However, while I assert that the principles are universal, their application in specific situations requires discourse and moral reasoning. Following the work of Elinor Ostrom, this discourse takes place within a community for the common good. And following the work of Michael Sandel, this reasoning is framed as a discourse between the moral principles and the specific situation, a discourse which informs both and has implications for design. This is both a rational and an emotional process, both individual and social, a process that requires new roles and new skills for designers. The book frames design as a moral discourse among co-creators, in which the community comes together to discuss what is good and what is just and how it can be achieved, how we, through our collective actions, through our designs, can make our community more-just, how, through our passion, purpose, and values, we can make the world a better place.