(Re)Designing the System | Front Porch | Indy Week

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(Re)Designing the System

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Clement Mok, the design visionary and creative director behind Apple's revolutionary Macintosh computer, has been very busy these last 20 or so years. Involved with almost every aspect of both the Internet and its design, Mok has amassed a list of accomplishments, projects and awards that could make your head spin.

Now, after the dot-com feeding frenzy has left many devalued stocks and disillusioned consumers in its wake, Mok has a compelling view of the role of design that helps him maintain a positive outlook for both designers and consumers.

After hearing his address last week at the Raleigh chapter of the American Institute of Graphic Arts (of which he's currently president), I talked with Clement by phone from his New York hotel room. Gracious and articulate, Mok is adept at revealing where we've been, and the surprising places that, hopefully, we're going.

Asked to elaborate on his statement that "Designers have an incredible capacity to make a difference in people's day to day lives ... but that capacity is rarely used to its fullest extent," Mok responded:

"The kind of things we've been doing are very one-dimensional ... Design has been commoditized". He ventured further that there's perhaps a little too much emphasis on the bottom line.

Mok implied that design has continued to move from something of intrinsic worth, tied in with the most fundamental aspects of a product's characteristics, to something that is more of a surface application ... After you've decided what your product is going to be, then you stick the design on top of it to make it appear attractive.

Now, Mok said, it is time for designers to expand upon and explain their own craft. It is necessary to enter into a dialog with both their clients and the end-users of the products to establish a collaboration that will bring all of us products that everyone wants. In the past, Mok says, "we [designers] haven't had much empathy for the user."

Mok proposes that designing entire systems, even entire economies, might be one way to solve this problem. Imagine designing a product and asking far-reaching questions at the beginning on exactly how useful, as well as how useable, it is. Imagine designing it with the livelihood of an entire community and economy in mind, so that those who produce it, and those who purchase and use it, are all happy with that product. What you end up with are not just products, but artifacts that have an enduring worth beyond their packaging or their mere novelty.

Mok asserted that there are already some products, such as Apple's iPod and the advent of instant voice mail, that offer specific examples of a product that is not only useful but useable, and that offer a great deal of built-in worth.

Beyond that, it's the future that Mok is looking toward. A self-labeled "change junkie," Mok finds that the common thread running through his anticipation of design's future is the willingness of designers to assume responsibility for their designs while including others in the design process.

It might be a complicated and difficult road to travel, but Mok asserts that it's entirely necessary. In his work with the AIGA, Mok is in the process of refining definitions and procedures to help all of us get started and talking the same language. There is one principle, though, that much of his design, and his re-discovered approach, already possess: If you're kind to people, and consider their needs as well as your own, it's almost inevitable that you'll do well.

How do you like them apples?

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