Why is disruptive design crucial to the future of our planet?

by João Candeias

Published Feb 24, 2022

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We live in a complex, interconnected world riddled with chaotic challenges, inherently human, that require an attitude and knowledge shift for us to address them at a systemic level. Uncovering solutions for the questions of how – Can we generate change in the world as designers? – Has become the main thrust of Humana. Design is an incredible and influential tool that changes the world, and over the last few years, disruptive design has become one of the leading movements in the design industry. Our new “No Secrets” article explores how disruptive design can be an innovative source to create a significant impact in the world.

Disruptive design is an approach to push our abilities to think through and intervene in the surrounding systems. To put it in other words, it's about embracing complexity, creating changes that improve the way things work for everyone, and conceiving a better future through design. Layla Acaroglu, an award-winning designer and social scientist, explains it perfectly: “Design is about creating something that adds to or iterates on the existing, and disruption is about creating a disturbance with the intent of changing a system. When combined, the practice of disruptive design is to create intentional interventions into a pre-existing system with the specific objective to leverage a different outcome, and more importantly, an outcome that is likely to create positive social change.”

So, why take a disruptive approach? Because systems need to change. We seek disruptive design as a guiding principle by reimagining the old and transforming the new into desirable and sustainable. While “disruptive” can be a bit of a stale motto, it is also at the core of what we do when we design something new. In this case, we want people to stop, look, and interact. This works because disruption means something distinctive from the conventional – Being at the forefront of a new trend to choosing an intriguing font, color palette, or design pattern is an example. Despite that, it's not about messing things up or creating something new; rather, it's about understanding the complexity and exploring the possibilities involved. However, people interrelate it as “being innovative”.

“Disruptive design confronts both creatives and non- creatives in thinking differently.”

No doubt, you have heard the terms“disruption” and“innovation” thrown around a lot. Although they are related, they don't mean the same thing. It’s important to understand that innovation is not only about developing new products. Inherently innovating does not embody any social or ecological values sometimes. That's the opposite of disruptive design, since it confronts both creatives and non-creatives in thinking differently. By understanding four fundamental principles that narrow this approach, each action and interaction with the world must form a purpose-driven intervention. Starting off by 1. Loving problems, nowadays, people tend to avoid them, but if you learn how to look at a challenge differently, you can see them as opportunities; 2. Connections – Actions create reactions, and everything is interconnected; 3. Shifting perspectives – Understanding the world through the eyes of others is crucial to building resilience, empathy, and leadership skills; 4. Creative leadership depends on a leader's ability to work with others respectfully and effectively. It is crucial to point out that finding a consensus can be accomplished in many ways, and diversity in collaboration is just as important as agreement.

“Design to disrupt is imperative to us”

Having these principles in mind, we continue to have this approach in everything we design or project we create. Design to disrupt is imperative to us. Often, we feel like our creative freedom can be inhibited by clients or the surround. Yet, sometimes this is just an excuse, but as a result, that, in fact, can be a restriction in design. However, we challenge ourselves and focus our work to be disruptive, meaning that we want to create a significant impact and stand above the rest by taking the initiative. By putting these words into practice, we created the project For Design. A disruptive idea with a simple concept that allowed us to travel around the world. The goal was to make design accessible to everyone by privileging people to invest in design services in exchange for goods. As a result, we were able to help clients in Europe and Africa. What's interesting is that trading our skills for something else than money opened up so many more possibilities to meet other people, countries, and cultures. Still, to be disruptive does not necessarily imply the creation of a project. It can be something visual going beyond a color palette, typography, or other elements with only one purpose: Create an emotional connection and inspire people to use innovative approaches to solving significant real-world problems. In all this process, the most crucial factor is to believe that you can actually make a difference.

"Each decision we make has far-reaching impacts, and there is so much engaging work to do."

The world needs more people who can lead to a positively disruptive shift — entrepreneurs prepared with the thinking and skills which encourage understanding complex systems and translate that into a positive shift. There are other mechanisms and strategies for designing change, and disruptive design is just one of a vast suite of programs out there. Each decision we make has far-reaching impacts, and there is so much engaging work to do. Due to the magnitude and diversity of the social issues we face today, it makes sense to use every approach we have in the bag to encounter creative solutions to improve the state of the world. Keep in mind that our day-to-day decisions have a lasting effect on society and the planet. As designers, we are expected to design for social impact. Indeed, it's our responsibility not only to be a catalyst for change, but also to bring visibility and inspire others to work towards creating a better future.