I was interested to read about Bruce Mau's call, at the Design Indaba conference in South Africa, for designers to 'combat economic and social ills' (Bruce Mau calls on the design world to combat economic and social ills, Design Week, 4 March 2009). His Massive Change project has captured the imagination of many who believe design has more to offer. Aware of this, in 2005 I contacted his office asking for an interview for an article I was writing on design and social policy for the journal of the Royal Society of Arts (Better by Design, Nico Macdonald, RSA Journal, August 2005, Volume CLII, No 5518). My request was declined without explanation. Perhaps Mau hadn't come across an organisation whose efforts had preceded his by 250 years. Many well know, if less celebrated, design thinkers did agree to be interviewed, including Shelley Evenson, Sean Blair, Richard Eisermann and Chris Downs.
As ever, our design visionaries are happy to grandstand and to burnish their reputations by associating themselves with these vogue, though frankly uncontroversial, causes. But rarely do they do the harder intellectual work needed to explain how we got here, and why their model for change is appropriate. Nor do they subject themselves to proper interrogation by journalists, let alone by working designers. If design's larger offer is to be taken seriously, Mau and his fellow travellers will need a 'massive change' in their attitude to enquiry and debate.
Sent for publication to Design Week (UK)