The Flaw in “the Democratization of Design”

[Originally Published on LinkedIn – Nov 4, 2014]

Mostly associated with expanding access to design by reducing production and manufacturing costs, the term “democratization of design” negatively impacts the industry. It implies two things: that Design is not yet accessible and that Design needs to be cheaper.

People should know that “no design” does not exist. Design is not the label or brand of a product, experience, or architecture. Design is the essence of a thing. As Douglas Martin famously said, “the alternative to good design is bad design, not no design at all.” Design is already accessed by the 7 billion people in the world daily, regardless of whether it is good or bad. To have the idea that Design exists only in expensive things overlooks the beauty and value of well-designed products that cost very little, such as BIC pens, post-it notes, or scissors. Cost does not dictate the value of an item’s design.

Once we free ourselves from the idea that high price equals good design, it’s easy to realize that the price of a product does not have a direct relationship to the value of its design. Therefore, first order logic dictates that design cannot be democratized at all, because it has an arbitrary relationship with the idea that democratizes it.

Instead of holding onto the idea of democratizing design, our challenge is rather educating the masses on what design is and is not. Once people have a clear understanding on what good or bad design is, the pricing or value of a product or service adjusts and better reflects its true worth based on its usefulness. When this happens, we will see significant changes in the market. We will have a population that values the designer and respects their work. Clients will stop thinking they are designers. Products and services will no longer be priced on false measures. There will be fewer designers that prostitute their work, which will shift the tide of the market for all designers, novice and experienced. By doing this we will find the happy medium where designers are not restricted to design products, experiences or architecture based on how consumers behave and instead are free to design for purpose. We gain back some authorial voice by designing for the essence of a product, experience or architecture, and not for economic interests.