The way people communicate and process information has changed. These changes are most notably in younger generations, daily interactions (digital or face-to-face) and various ways of expressing ideas (e.g. articles, social media). Recently, I have started to see a connection between these phenomena and our receptiveness to deal with problems; even when these could be described as “simple”. Particularly, this mindset seems to be quite common in the education context, where simple premises are seen by students as complex and undoable.
This change made me think about how people used to handle similar situations in the past. While I’m not a fan of comparisons, I do believe that if we think back to what our grandparents and great-grandparents had to deal with or their daily life challenges, we may start seeing some of our complaints from a different perspective. It is hard to pin point what has triggered these changes, but technological developments have contributed. While they have made possible an enormous amount of things, they have also made us more lazy and reluctant to think. Some examples are: wanting to finish everything in 5 minutes or extremely high dependency on the use of digital devices to solve problems. This attitude is affecting how we deal with all kind of problems. Apathy seems to be a growing feeling while the hunger of learning is decreasing. Students seem to be more interested in just getting a degree than in actually gaining new knowledge. Larger organisations seem to be more preoccupied with earning money than in actually addressing problems in effective ways (when this may involve less money).
The problem of dealing with problems
Similarly to Don Norman, I don’t believe that we live in a more complex world. As someone who is trying to go away from dualistic ways of looking at the world (best/worst, right/wrong, failure/success) and advocates for learning above all, to me, today’s world is just different. We do have more moving parts and components that generate more and different types of connections, relationships, and layers. But this doesn’t make everything more complex. This could be a simplistic view. Perhaps. But different doesn’t necessarily mean simpler either. It means that we need different tools, tactics, strategies, ways of thinking about the world, and ways of dealing with problems.
Paradoxically, we seem to have lost our determination, curiosity and enthusiasm. When the challenge is unframed or unclear, we give up too soon because we need to spend more time thinking or just generating a solution. We seem reluctant to challenge our thinking, even when we know that that could lead to a more successful path. Older and younger generations struggle to find alternatives to tackle ambiguity or unframed situations. “Creativity” is often presented as the way to find the needed solutions, but in practice societies, organisations and people are still quite adverse to change or to simply think differently. “If something works, why change it”. Sadly, I hear this phrase too often.
What’s the role of design in this equation?
I don’t have the answer, but no, I don’t think design will save the world. Design can help generate more tools or create better experiences. But, the change should come from us, as a society. We are the ones who need to approach life with another attitude, and regain the joy of exploring and learning rather than being fixated in the results.
This change is needed not only to come up with different and more creative solutions, but also to become better people and live in a better world.