What American Designers Can Do to Help the US Economy

The US economy is in the toilet and everyone who doesn’t work in the stock market or in government is either stuffing money into their mattress or simply watching the market freefall with jaw dropped. What is a designer to do?

The long-term answer comes from Thomas Friedman, whom I don’t always agree with (the world is decidedly NOT flat; it is spikier than ever), but in this case I do. His advice in his New York Times column from a few days ago is something we as designers should all take to heart. To whit:

[W]e don’t just need a bailout. We need a buildup. We need to get back to making stuff, based on real engineering not just financial engineering. We need to get back to a world where people are able to realize the American Dream — a house with a yard — because they have built something with their hands, not because they got a “liar loan” from an underregulated bank with no money down and nothing to pay for two years. The American Dream is an aspiration, not an entitlement.

Our economy is like a car, added Sridhar, and the financial institutions are the transmission system that keeps the wheels turning and the car moving forward. Real production of goods that create absolute value and jobs, though, are the engine.

In other words, it’s the things, stupid. At a time when we’re being told design thinking is where the real value is, it turns out that the designed products themselves are what are of real value, both to individuals, companies, and the entire economy. Let’s start doing more (and teaching more) of hands-on designing.

This is not to say we should irresponsibly start filling the world with more unnecessary crap objects. We have plenty enough of those already, thanks. But thoughtful, sustainable, meaningful objects that improve our lives and, in the case of green technology, improve the world will always be welcome. Make those things, the objects people not only want but also need, and we’ll all recover a lot faster.