is it kind? ICoD announces international design day 2024 theme

15.01.2024 ICoD news

What if designers first asked, is it kind? What if the measure of design was how well it cared for people and their relationships rather than how profitable it was? This year's International Design Day theme is about building kindness into design practice.

The theme 'is it kind?' proposes a new metric of design kindness: the kindness standard. And defines what kind design isThis year we ask Members how they are designing to transform current systems into possibilities to design with kindness — to ensure a kinder future for all.


WHY IS KINDNESS SO HARD TO DESIGN WITH?

Kindness is inherent to human beings. Humans are born with a great capacity to feel compassion and care for others, ethics and principles that include humility, respect, empathy, reciprocity, and love, among others. Kindness is also a quality of attentiveness to the relationships that surround us and define who we are. It can help to create a sense of harmony and peace in each and all our worlds. And yet, we are at a tipping point in the history of the world, where harmony through kindness can feel impossible. Unsurpassed technological innovation and scaled possibility also bring social inequity, political and environmental unrest. Both advances and mistakes have been made and as we imagine and design these worlds we must also account for systems that have created unjust sets and systems of relationships that are difficult to untangle.

We have many metrics by which to judge the value of a design. Will it sell well? Is it sustainable? Is it innovative? Culturally relevant? But we don’t always have the reflex to ask ourselves … does this design make the world (even a little) better? Does it make us happier?

We think that we should be asking ourselves these questions. In a world where market success can be at odds with social equity, human health and even with the user’s own well-being, we need a new barometer for success: care for the people being impacted by the designs. Before adding anything new to the world, every designer should be asking themselves: is it kind?

 

THE KINDNESS STANDARD
(developing metrics for kindness)

What if design was measured by how kind the design is to the world? How much care you have not only for the people using the design, but for the people extracting the raw materials, manufacturing the products, for the people living near the factories, for the environment that people need to live in. What if design was considered in terms of whether the design is ethical and good and improves the world in some way or whether it is unkind in small or large ways. Is it compassionate to the suffering of the people involved in the value chain that creates it?

Developing a metrics for kindness and building kindness into design practice means:

Reconfiguring the value and metrics of design. If your metric is money and you are creating things that are at the expense of the well-being of people, this is not valuable design. What about inventing a measure of design based on what kind of relations and ethics it generates? How much, and what quality of care shapes the design, shifts the economic model of creating desire (and making more ‘stuff’ and money) to consider instead pressing questions of fairness: Who is being considered and who is left out? Whose future will be affected, and how? How much harmony does this design generate now and in future? What kind of world does this design uphold/imagine anew? 

For International Design Day, we want to go a step further. It is not enough to simply meet the criteria for not being ‘bad’, we want to see a world where design strives to be be kind, generous, caring. By having standards for ourselves that exceed regulatory standards, by introducing wonder and beauty into the user experience, by showing care not only for the consumers of our products but all those that are in the value chain and impacted by the design.

What if designing with care and compassion is exciting and meaningful and desirable?


DEFINING KIND DESIGN

When we ask, is it kind? how do we define kindness in the design? How do we build kindness into our design practice? 

Defining kind design and building kindness into design practice means:

Centering humanity. This means focusing on the good of the users, those affected by the design, and also the society that surrounds them. This is a concept we have brought up many times before (see the Professional Code of Conduct) This means centering the design process — and the way we measure its success — on the impacts that the designing has on the well-being of the society that is affected by the design using designers’ capacity for compassion and care. It is key to make a distinction between the user of the and the non-user who many be affected by the design.

Building plurality. Kind design can be participatory, socially-oriented, and open-ended. In this plural model, the designer could be thought of as a facilitator who makes space for ethnographic, participatory and collaborative practices to intersect. “A world of many worlds” (Fourth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle 1996) considers how divergent knowledges and practices make worlds in order to arrive at something plural, “a world in which many worlds fit”. Allowing different worlds to be alongside of one another is a mindset that can inform design practice. In such a reciprocal relationship, designs can be independent but also nested within a set of different design configurations. This includes not only difference in design practices between peoples from different places in the world, but an openness to collaborating across a plurality of fields and experts when considering how to solve a situated design problem.

“Being in good relation” is a concept put forth by Dakota scholar Kim Tallbear (2019) that involves understanding the interdependence of all living things — including all human and other-than-human worlds. All humans share difference and sameness in relationship to their environments, to the land, water, animals and their human communities and material realities. As part of their process, designers can be attentive to these relations as a kind of vast network of entangled effects. Importantly, those most affected by the design probably hold the clearest, most ethical and principled path forward, and should be consulted first. Building alternate networks of relations based in kindness is part of it.

Getting inspired by the legal model of a duty of care. In legal terminology a duty of care is a legal obligation requiring individuals to adhere to a standard of reasonable care to avoid careless acts that cause harm (whether visible now, in the present, or future, as a material inheritance). Kind designing as standard of care means looking ahead to assess the foreseeable outcomes of what is being designed, and ensuring that care shapes all steps of the design, who is affected, what consequences might arise, well into the future.

 

MORE TO COME FOR IDD24

Stay tuned for more information on the theme, activities and toolkit. In the meantime, consider these questions
 on the theme:

Is your design kind?

How do you already incorporate a kindness measure into your design practice?

How could you build kindness more meaningfully into your practice?

Which existing systems prevent kind designing?

What do you think the distinction would be between design that meets the minimum standard for being ethical versus design that is kind?

Are there any models of kind designing you follow?

What kind of metrics could be used to show the ‘success’ of kind design?


Designing with kindness as a measure of value works to challenge existing systems and the pressures to design for profit.  And then transform these into possibilities to build new kinds of relationships, and a new measure of design that ensures a future that is socially equitable, environmentally sustainable, culturally diverse and economically viable.

Design with kindness at its core — is it kind? — follows these ethics and principles.

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This year's theme for ICoD International Design Day (IDD 2024) is in honour of the legacy of the humanitarian designer Rob L. Peters, who once said, "What if we all decided to be a little kinder than necessary? What a gift to pass on." Activities for this year will be led by ICoD Member Lithuanian Design Association (LDA).

 

 

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