Since the 1970s, our socioeconomic design principle has been to innovate by focussing on individual needs, in order to satisfy profit or ourselves. It’s a design principle largely shaped by our political ideology of the patriarchy, that’s shaped much of Western society. Its characteristics of efficiency, speed, competition and profit worship has socialised the idea of individualism. Which in itself holds hierarchy and exclusion.
Innovation through individualism
The innovation frameworks we use, like design thinking, human-centered design or jobs to be done are optimised to help teams find new concepts that will win in the marketplace. The problem is that these innovation frameworks motivate teams to focus on this idea of user centered design which tends to be customer experience design. What will help this person work, buy, watch more? We’re not putting enough emphasis on the other actors who matter, or thinking about times when people are not consumers. We’re helping deliver commercial interests.
Individualism has shaped our civic frameworks
Our data protection frameworks, like GDPR or CCPA, express our digital rights as rights of the individual. The problem is that data rarely represents one person, it usually describes multiple people. Data isn’t even valuable until it’s in aggregate. But this individualistic lens has shaped how we now design for that data protection. Like, how we ask for consent. Our de facto model is one where consent is individually given, every time. It’s the ultimate divide and conquer attack on humanity.
The extractive business models
And then there are the business models, the blueprints of the market. They’re pretty limited, and predominantly the business model of digital products and services is to monetize data and use targeted advertising.
We’re causing chaos
Over time, this growth in data collection has had a secondary impact, and that’s on the climate. 2% of worldwide CO2 emissions comes from data centers. Training a single AI model can emit as much carbon as five cars in their lifetimes. If the Internet was a country, it would be the 3rd biggest energy consumer in the world.
At IF, we’ve had enough
We want to change the climate of ideas. We want to move beyond human-centered design to society-centered design. We must design for the collective. We must design for society.
Together, these components make up society-centered design.
The principles of Society-centered design
PUT CARE FIRST
If we put care first and at the center of our efforts, we can move away from delivering solely for individual and commercial interests. Care lets us deliver for public health and the planet through compassion and reciprocity.
As more of our lives are connected, we need to create systems that earn trust with people. Products, services, and standards that can be open, resilient and promote citizen empowerment.
EMPOWER COLLECTIVE AGENCY
Empowering collective agency starts with radical inclusion of the most vulnerable. We should be creating a new civic commons by making economic opportunity for the many.
REIMAGINE PUBLIC VALUE
We can create new resources and standards that favor the civic commons and public health over commercial value and the success of the few.
DESIGN FOR PEOPLE’S RIGHTS
Design is a political act and it’s our responsibility to design for people’s rights. Privacy is not a luxury for those that can afford it. Privacy is a human right. We must create systems that remove the imbalance of power and instead promote equity and citizen empowerment.
ENSURE FAIR AND JUST OVERSIGHT
Without fairness and justice we cannot have equity. Too often, “the commons” is shorthand for “the majority”. So we need to place mechanisms for fair and just oversight inside our design systems, so society can hold the powerful to account.
REDISTRIBUTE THE POWER OF TECHNOLOGY
The web is the greatest single distribution platform ever created. As a result, it has an outsized impact on everything, including causing harm to the most vulnerable and excluded. Design must seek to redistribute that power for citizen empowerment and equity.
CREATE COMPASSION AT SCALE
AI and automation are rapidly changing the world. But currently they’re focused on commercial goals rather than societal needs. We have an opportunity to reshape AI and automation so they create equity and reinforce civic commons. People must be in control, always.
DESIGN FOR REGENERATIVE ACTION
The climate emergency is an existential threat to humanity. We need to shift narratives and focus away from abundance and scarcity to regeneration. We need sustainable and regenerative design and business models for society, for public health, and for the planet.
The issues we face are intertwined, complex and ever-shifting. We live in radical times. And radical times require radical solutions. Doing nothing only favors a deadly status quo: we must act boldly and defiantly.
We stand on the shoulders of giants
The manifesto was not created without inspiration.
Here’s a selection of our references:
- Xenodesign by Johanna Schmeer
- Gardens and Zoos by Matt Jones, Google AI
- The Tragedy of the Commons by Garrett Hardin
- Adding value, by adding values by Ben Terrett, Public Digital
- Beyond human-centred design to? by Cassie Robinson, Big Lottery
- Defining Relational Design: A conceptual analysis by Timothy Holloway
- Towards Relational Design by Andrew Blauvelt, Museum of Arts and Design
- Building Better Worlds by Cennydd Bowles
- Anticipatory Design by Aaron Shapiro, Huge Inc
- The Powers of Ten by Ray and Charles Eames
- Calling for a more-than-human politics by Anab Jain, Superflux
Co-sign the manifesto
Thanks to Dan Harvey, who we’ve had the pleasure of working with, who co-authored this manifesto. And to David, for his incredible graphics.