How COVID might affect the use of Design Thinking?
The occurrence of a pandemic in the 21st century has got us completely hooked on technology. Beyond that, the wrath of Covid-19 has ensured that humans all over the world only get daily updates from social media platforms. The monopoly of Facebook, Instagram, and Whatsapp along with Twitter, dominates this loop. They exhibit how design has elevated the societal addiction to media feeds and bottomless scrolling. Silicon Valley design thinkers and other incubators looked to this as opportunity.
It is key to note that the expanse of social media increases its proclivity to being influenced by fake news. While turning a deaf ear to it at a macro level, these platforms look to expanding their large market base. Irrespective of the societal harms, the target is to engage the youth in it. The designers created this ‘interminable’ model disregarding the long-term impacts on society. Since the financial gains were tremendous, it ignored the ethical perspective completely. Consequently, the present configuration defies the factor of empathy in design thinking.
Design thinking is not foolproof. Its checks and balances rely on the sensibilities and compassion of design thinkers. The position of a design thinker comes with a responsibility. A designer represents the user. They are tasked with the moral duty of creating a balance between the myriad of events taking place. It becomes crucial to analyse the demands of the business, understand technology and have an ethical outlook. Additionally, the process is vital where the design thinker needs to be incorporated right at the beginning.
Since its initial years, design thinking as a strategy has been effective. Yet, that grasp of systems thinking from that time happens to be missing in today’s innovations. The tools in those days were not solely business-oriented. Instead, they were attempting to solve a problem. One that would make people’s lives easier. The problem-solving attitude proposed by the design thinkers of the previous generation is not the same it is today. Seeing how the problems they were trying to solve in the system remain the same or have exacerbated.
After the Covid-19 pandemic hit, it revealed structural deficiencies in our systems. It crippled our healthcare, education, job market, and environment to a point; that only indicates regression. In developing nations, like India, the increase in poverty is apparent, especially within the deprived classes. All that progress made in improving access to medicine, learning, regular income, safe drinking water and stable environmental conditions has been reversed by the pandemic. It has put the design thinkers in a vulnerable position.
That said, we can list down several positive instances. But, the present conditions look worse than they were a decade ago. Thereby, the next generation of design thinkers might rise to be better problem solvers. It further increases the need for the adoption of design thinking at the start of the process. Subsequently, a much needed understanding of human-centred design and ethical practice comes with it.
Ethical decision-making is not the same as technical problem-solving. It is about developing a human-centred AI that aligns with the values and principles of a society. As of now, a business-oriented mindset overpowers ethical consideration. The latter is often pushed towards the last stage of the design process. At times, it is considered dull and something that would reduce the scope of an idea. Thus, when ethics and the ideation process do not go together, it sometimes gets too late to correct the wrongdoings. We make compromises that result in a loss at an individual as well as societal level.
For a designer, it is imperative to understand the ethical considerations of the work. The post-Covid-19 development will require solutions to have a more comprehensive standpoint. One should analyse the situation from all possible angles. Yet, the outcome should be efficient, frugal, affordable, adaptive, and robust. They should be learning from the past and preparing for the future. For instance, as an answer to the current scenario, Mark Zuckerberg most recently discussed his concept for Metaverse - a form of mixed reality integrated with the internet. It speaks volumes about how a steep turn of a pandemic made the design thinker in him think that way.
After all, the power of design thinking can deliver to the needs of all. While design thinking may not be the only solution or the best one to tackle every challenge, it will be the most pertinent one moving forward.
About the Writer
Saakshar Makhija is an undergraduate architecture student at the School of Planning and Architecture (SPA), Bhopal. He is the Co-Founder of Emblema Designs, a graphic design, and digital marketing venture. He has experience working with Rethinking The Future (RTF) and India Lost and Found (ILF) by Amit Pasricha. He attended the summer school organised by the "Rafael Manzano Prize for New Traditional Architecture" by the International Network for Traditional Building, Architecture and Urbanism (INTBAU), Spain.
About the Editor
Esha Biddanda Pavan is an architect and urbanist currently based out of Toronto, Canada. She is a graduate of the School of Geography and Planning, Cardiff University, UK, and the Visvesvaraya Technological University (VTU), Bangalore. She has experience working at Kitsune Consulting, Cardiff University Business School, Weaving Thoughts, Keha Casa, Kabir Hira Architects and a-designstudio.
About the Illustrator
P. Trishita is an undergraduate architecture student at the School of Planning and Architecture (SPA), Bhopal. She is also a multipotentialite, illustrator, singer, and occasional songwriter.