The Elevator Pitch

The longest elevator ride you never wanted

Excuse me while I push all the buttons in this elevator.

Thinking outside the box: humans are better when they are grounded in reality. Photo by Scott Szarapka on Unsplash

Freelance design is not working out well for me. And it probably comes down to an attitude problem. I have lost faith in corporate capitalism, and by extension, in marketing and advertising. I am no longer interested in being a member of the precariat.

By breaking the silence, I am committing professional suicide, submitting myself to a form of public mockery, humiliation, and crucifixion—a slow, torturous, suffocation—in hopes that I might be resurrected as a better human being.

Our local marketing, advertising and design industry is part of the problem. It outsources work to undercut the local creative economy. It does not provide dependable work. The work it does provide suffers from a lack of feedback necessary for quality results. It does not pay bills promptly, sometimes not at all. This is not a recipe for a healthy business or a steady income. I have been shopping myself around for the past six years, but no one wants to hire me. And it is no wonder, because I have a serious attitude problem.

Internally, I have always been in an adversarial relationship with hierarchical systems, seeking to change the meaning and purpose of creative work by subverting the system from the inside or by working against it from the margins. Learning to design and to code and investing time in the world of open source software has been a large part of that effort.

However, design has been complicit, whether inadvertently or not, in actively supporting a system of capitalism that is turning design into a commodity, undercutting its value by outsourcing it, and actively replacing it with artificial intelligence that makes the designer obsolete. It is also actively supporting the consolidation of power and the accumulation of wealth for undemocratic, authoritarian corporations who are using their capital to purchase political power around the world.

Now that corporate capitalism, marketing and advertising have invested capital to consolidate power over our institutions, they are telegraphing their punches, revealing their endgame. Regardless of what the PR messages communicate, large corporations do not exist for the benefit of humanity. Rather, corporations, because they are legal documents designed to impersonate human beings in order to avoid social responsibility and liability, concentrate power in order to render human beings obsolete, profiting at their expense.

The White House is doing the world a service by live-tweeting the internal motivations of corporate capitalism. Because they consider the press the enemy of the state, they can engage in the perverse equation that assassinating and dismembering a Washington Post reporter is merely the cost of doing business with Saudi Arabia. This business just happens to involve the sale of weapons to an allied authoritarian power that is systematically destroying the civilian population of Yemen, causing the worst humanitarian crisis of our time. Canada is complicit by purchasing a non-existent Texan oil pipeline to fund the war and by manufacturing weapons for sale to Saudi Arabia.

Our institutions have been built on imperial and colonial foundations, and they continue to operate as they have been designed.

  • The government: institutionalizing injustice
  • The corporation: purchasing power
  • The church: perpetuating abuse

Design for Transformation and Transcendence

The most important work for designers at this moment will not be to support the existing system of corporate capitalism, marketing, and advertising when the end result is crimes against humanity.

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

― Buckminster Fuller

The new role of the designer is that of the social architect, a person who understands living systems and processes and seeks to facilitate and guide the activity of individuals and groups to better align with the health and function of the entire ecosystem.

To understand our new role as designers will require new ways of thinking about design education. This is what I believe will define this moment in history.

Like cells in a body, we each have a role to play in the function of the whole. It is this model of interconnection and interdependence that must guide our activities and the value that we hold for each other.

Welcome to the design challenge of the human experience.

Builders Collective

Building leaders to design a resilient society.

BLDRS: building leaders to design a resilient society

Designer, writer, educator, social architect, founder, Builders Collective, Leading with Design. https://stephenbau.com

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