If Designers are Problem Solvers: What is a “Real” Problem, A Problem for Whom?

By Philip G. C. Whiting.

Published by The Design Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Meikle describes American industrial designers in the 1940’s as nothing more than a service to industry and responsible for the development of consumerism, rather than solving real problems? What is a real problem as opposed to a perceived problem or even a wicked problem?

Problems always exist in one form or another, so should designers begin to view the world in a more scientific way and look for real problems within situations that require resolution, in the way that Heidegger asks the question: What actually calls for thinking?; real food for thought as opposed to reactive design thinking. It could be argued that designers such as Dyson already do this to some extent, but should not all designers become much more proactive in terms of path-finding, leading and design management?

Designers today only provide assistance when they should provide overall direction or redirection for tomorrow. Redirecting and addressing the impact of socio-economic problems we are now facing, as well as climatic change or natural disaster especially where there is potential for re-occurrence and the real problem may be floods, storms, volcanos, erosion, rising tides, extreme heat or cold.

In a sense we tend to treat our environments as a constant war with nature, yet earlier thinking; due in part to limitations of machine and lack of technology in the past, was to adapt to our environment. Today we solve many problems by simply trying to dominate nature as we possess the power and technology to do this, without fully appreciating the long term implications of our designs.

To begin to solve this real problem we have to move the designer from a reactive service industry to proactive design thinking, path-finding and profession of leaders.

Keywords: Design Management, Design Thinking, Sustainability, Consumers

Design Principles and Practices: An International Journal, Volume 5, Issue 3, pp.553-562. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.156MB).

Philip G. C. Whiting

Convenor, Design Department, Queensland College of Art, South Bank Campus, Griffith University, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

I have worked for over 30 years in the disciplines of Interior, Product and Visual Communication Design with the focus on total Retail Design, both in the UK and Australia. I strongly believe that the process of design and design thinking can be used to successfully address many of the issues faced by the world today and in the future. My PhD research is based on this premise and in my position as Convenor, Design Department at Queensland College of Art in Australia we are actively introducing this into the curriculum to redirect the way in which designers work in the future.


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