Blog: Anniversary: SHAPING THE NEXT 40
By Christian Bason, Chief Executive of the Danish Design Centre.
On the occasion of our 40th birthday, we have published a magazine under the title Shaping the Next.
The keyword is empathy
In the spring of 2019, I attended the interactive festival SXSW in Austin, Texas. It was my third visit and I was happy to be reminded of a lot of relevant questions for our technological future, presented by a variety of leading experts, politicians, futurists, designers and authors.
Every presentation I saw, every talk I heard, and every book people referred to had an overarching theme. Of course, there was a lot about the coming age of machine learning, artificial intelligence and data security. But above all else, weaved into almost every conversation, whether it was about new forms of workspaces and education, IoT or blockchain, was one word: Empathy. Empathy — or the lack of it.
Thousands of people in Austin seemed to agree that, above anything else, we need to find a way back to being human in our digital age. Now, this is good news in more than one sense. It is of course reassuring that people who have contributed to seductive marketing through social media, who have coded addictive algorithms, and who have helped push political agendas via our e-mails seem to have woken up simultaneously to realise: We are not doing the right thing.
Being empathetic in all endeavours means you notice if a CEO of a major company has lost his or her emotional compass and is treating employees badly. You notice if they are hogging our personal data with the purpose of using it against our best interest. With empathy, we can steer the development of the most intelligent new technologies simply by asking ourselves not how fast it runs, or how much data it can collect and use, but how it can help humans in the best way possible. It means that something as fluffy as how something feels is actually recognised as a value.
Empathy is a skill
For designers, empathy is nothing new. Empathy is a skill (not a trait) that designers use, train, refine, steer by. But as I have spent most of my career studying and working with design, I notice a shift in my own world as well — a new focus on and recognition of empathy as a vital value. If more empathy is indeed part of what we need to address our challenges — and I believe it is — designers have a key role in bringing it into play.
I believe that the large tech-corporations, governments and organisations that are capable of taking users and customers seriously as humans, will ultimately be the ones who will define our shared future — and thereby the next society.
This year, the Danish Design Centre turns 40, and so it is timely to turn our sights to what is in store for the longer term. I hope by reading the following pages you will learn more about how we and our partners see the potential of design for creating a better present and for shaping the next 40 years.
Originally published at danskdesigncenter.dk on April 25, 2019.