Future by Design

‘Great design is a multi-layered relationship between human life and its environment.’

~ Naoto Fukasawa

As a designer, I live to create. Design to me is organic, shapeless; a form I can morph and manipulate until ideas manifest.

Sometimes that means a typeface that will make a brand pop, others a Pantone that will be popular with millennials. But these are just surface. Subconsciously, design resonates on a deeper, more human level; one we often use to solve our problems.

Consider the everyday elements around you. You wake up, you jump into the shower, you shave, you get dressed, you make toast. You drive to work, or take the train.

In your morning ritual alone, you’ve encountered countless designs solutions ingrained into our lives. 

Like all great design, their genius is hidden in plain sight, but in some cases, along with them a fundamental flaw.

Take plastic, for example.

Design challenge:
Bread becomes stale when stored in a paper bag.
Design solution:
Plastic doesn’t let moisture escape, is cheaper and longer-lasting, and easy to discard and replace.
Design challenge:
Humans need to consume a lot of water, often and on-the-go.
Design Solution:
Plastic is lighter than glass to carry, it’s safer because it can’t break, and it’s a convenient solve to drinking water.
But here’s the design problem:
Most plastic isn’t biodegradable. It doesn’t rot, like paper or food, so instead it can hang around in the environment for hundreds of years.
Moreover, each year 400 million tons of plastic is produced and over 40% of that is single-use – plastic we’ll only ever use once before it’s binned.


In her Design Indaba talk, artist, writer and designer Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg argues that some so-called ‘revolutionary design solutions’ – like our many plastic products and subsequent plastic problem – were purely made to satisfy a need quickly, and in so doing, gave us bigger problems in the process.

Her point: This form of quick-fix design doesn’t serve our common future.

I agree.

Responsible design should always draw on insights of human behaviour to reveal a (sometimes) hidden truth, before taking that truth and from it creating a considered design solution.

As makers and creators, we need to hold ourselves accountable to a sustainable design future.

The good news is the design landscape has already started shifting into a future-proof space. Yes, there is still a gap in applying future-proof design processes to our daily lives, but ideals of this design thinking do exist – from packaging to products; furniture to fashion design.

As cliché as it sounds, sustainable design is in the details, and at its core the desire to make things better, holistically.

A good example of this is how Gillette designed TREO, a razor to assist caretakers in shaving elderly men. This product design was not based on a quick-fix, retrofitted design for the here and now, but rather formed on the insight that all humans deteriorate over time and for that we need to create long-term design iterations. With that in mind, TREO handles like a paintbrush, requires less water and is an example of how engineering, technology and design can come together to create a mindful product.

Design solutions like these are multifold as they consider human behaviour on multiple levels, from our relationship to the environment to our relationships with one another. As designers, we need to start future-proofing our thinking by anticipating the future and creating for it –– not just design for design’s sake.

Eero Saarinen, an 
industrial designer and Finnish-American architect noted for his neo-futuristic style, advocates this notion by stating “Always design a thing by considering it in its next larger context – a chair in a room, a room in a house, a house in an environment, an environment in a city plan.”

The next time you are designing or contemplating a design, consider this: Where is this design going to live and for how long? Does this design take human behaviour into account?

As Paul Bennett said, “Design transcends agenda and speaks to the politics of optimism.”

That, I think, is a brilliant premise to base the future of design on.