For meaningful change to occur within society it must be enacted at a cultural level. In the twenty-first century this is facilitated through a ‘bottom-up’ (community-led) and ‘top-down’ (government-led) approach.
Designers have the unique opportunity to position themselves as agents for cultural change by acting as intermediates between community and government.
More than any period in history, today’s world exists in a state of constant change. Previously, in the twentieth century knowledge was transferred from a higher authority down to the level of the individual. In the twenty-first century, society is beginning to experience the first waves of a cultural and political revolution, facilitated through the ‘digital enlightenment’ of the information age.
With this sudden and open ability to access and share information, society at a community level is becoming increasingly empowered to enact change in a ‘bottom up’ way. On a global scale, movements such as Wikileaks, the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street demonstrate the role that access to information and its dissemination through social media are beginning to play in facilitating cultural change.
An opportunity therefore exists for designers to facilitate and empower these kinds of ‘bottom up’ movements by creating environments where they can prosper. In this context, the role of the designer is akin to a scientist creating the environment of a ‘petri dish’ to allow an experiment to take place.
Within Queensland a number of these types of environments already exist or have the potential to be developed further. The APDL along with other peak bodies such as the AIA, DIA, AGDA and QueenslandersignTM have the opportunity to develop platforms that encourage an open relationship between government and the community.
While designers are often frustrated by a lack of responsiveness from government, a key to overcoming this frustration may lie in a recognition and acceptance of the current mode of government operation. As Michel Gelobter argues, the current political system, based on a model of corporate authority, is incredibly responsive, however responsive primarily to the forces of the economy. As a result, governments remain accountable to the higher powers of corporate wealth, which in the Australian context is dominated by the mining and resource sectors.
In the information age where ‘data is the new oil’ and the language of government is economics, designers must present tangible data highlighting the economic benefits of design to society at a cultural level. While it might seem counter-intuitive to measure the economic value of something as qualitatively-laden as design, this process is a necessary one for designers to overcome in order to effectively engage with government.
As facilitators of ‘bottom-up’ change designers can empower and educate community. As advocates to government, providing tangible data on the positive benefits of design, designers can contribute to ‘top-down’ change that embeds good design at a cultural level across society.