Today’s designers move too fast and break too many things.
In Fast Company‘s Co.Design, Mike Monteiro advises the next generation of designers to slow down: to unionize, pursue licensing, raise standards, embrace regulation, and care more about the consequences of sacrificing ethics for speed.
There are two words every designer needs to feel comfortable saying: “no” and “why.” Those words are the foundation of what we do. They’re the foundation of building an ethical framework. If we cannot ask “why?” we lose the ability to judge whether the work we’re doing is ethical. If we cannot say “no” we lose the ability to stand and fight. We lose the ability to help shape the thing we’re responsible for shaping.
There’s no longer room in Silicon Valley to ask why. Designers are tasked with moving fast and breaking things. “How” has become more important than “why.” How fast can we make this? How can we grab the most market share? How can we beat our competitors to market?
Today’s designers have spent their careers learning how to work faster and faster and faster. And while there’s certainly something to be said for speed, excessive speed tends to blur one’s purpose. To get products through that gate before anyone noticed what they were and how foul they smelled. Because we broke some things. It’s one thing to break a database, but when that database holds the keys to interpersonal relationships, the database isn’t the only thing that breaks.
Along with speed, we’ve had to deal with the amphetamine of scale. Everything needs to be faster and bigger. How big it can get, how far it can go. “A million dollars isn’t cool. You know what’s cool?” You know the rest of the line. When we move fast and break things and those things get bigger and bigger, the rubble falls everywhere.
You will sometimes lose your job for doing the right thing. But the question I want you to ask yourself is why you’re open to doing the wrong thing to keep your job. Without resorting to the level of comparing you to guards at Japanese internment camps, I’d argue there are paychecks not worth earning. An ethical framework needs to be independent of pay scale. If it’s wrong to build databases for keeping track of immigrants at $12 an hour, it’s still wrong to build them at $200 an hour, or however much Palantir pays its employees. Money doesn’t make wrong right. A gilded cage is still a cage.
You’ll have many jobs in your life. The fear of losing a job is a self-fulfilling prophesy. Fear makes it less likely that you’ll question and challenge the things you need to question and challenge. Which means you’re not doing your job anyway.
The first part of doing this job right is wanting to do it right. And the lost generation of designers doesn’t want to do it right. They found themselves standing before a gate, and rather then seeing themselves as gatekeepers they decided they were bellhops.