Design's Search for Meaning

Tomorrow’s “best design-led businesses” will be those delivering a new kind of value that balances people, planet and profitability. We are building Industrial Craft Studio, a next-generation design studio, to explore how we—as creatives—should evolve the design process to better serve the world.

User-centered design has driven incalculable economic growth and shareholder value over the last forty years. However, its singular focus can have serious repercussions. We believe the next generation design process must consider problems and opportunities beyond individuals and design for the wider context they live within.

Placing “We before Me”

User-centered design excels at prioritizing and serving individual needs, removing friction, and elevating the customer experience. While serving the needs of “me” can create value for companies, this design approach can undermine our collective societal goals. User-centered design can be myopic and risks fueling—rather than combating—global problems including climate change, cultural polarization, and individual loneliness. If we don’t evolve user-centered design, we will design a world so focused on “Me” that “We” will not want to live in it.

Design Creates Meaning.

While user-centered design dives deep to remove the friction from interactions and make experiences seamless, it's important to take a step back and remember why we got into design in the first place: to create meaning.

Meaning creates connectedness, a sense of belonging, personal value, bonds between people, purpose in the pursuit of a task, significance in an infinite existence, self awareness in a crowd, a feeling of presence in a particular moment, and even love in its many forms.

Meaning-Centered Design
We need to embrace a more robust design process to better meet our collective needs and focus on the health of the planet, society, and culture. By approaching the design process more holistically, we create meaning in our designed experiences and take full responsibility for the impact our products have on our collective future.

Meaning Creates Value

According to a comprehensive McKinsey study, the best design-led businesses “increase their revenues and shareholder returns at nearly twice the rate of their industry counterparts.” Today, consumers come armed with information and actively seek responsible products from responsible companies. A 2020 IBM study found nearly 60% of consumers indicated they would change shopping habits to reduce their environmental impact. Capgemini found, “78% of consumers believed private companies should have a larger societal role than looking after their own self-interests”. Tomorrow’s best design-led business will evolve brands and their products to help the next generation of consumers make better choices for themselves and their world.

A Next-Generation Design Studio.

To transform the design process, we establish non-traditional partnerships with competitors, governments, and subject matter experts outside our organization. The problems of today are far too complex to be navigated by one-dimensional design research, so we lean on diverse expertise outside of design. When we collaborate as a community—rather than compete—we can achieve what seems impossible today. We are just beginning to engage the world in a conversation about what Meaning-Centered Design can be: how we can best define, practice, and improve it. We welcome all to join this conversation.

Find us at 605 Florida Street, San Francisco CA.
Co-written by Max Burton, Ben Lorimore, and John Butler