In July 1945, with the Second World War almost over, Vannevar Bush published an article called “As we may think” in the famous magazine “The Atlantic“. It was probably the most influential article for the technological evolution of the 20th century.
Bush, educated as an engineer, played a role in the development of the atomic bomb, and he knew that the end of the war was near. In his article, Bush expressed his concern about the direction science and scientists should move in after the conflict: understanding and collaboration, or destructive developments.
In its push for a better future, “As we may think” theorizes about a machine that would collaboratively store known scientific memory. Furthermore, this information could be accessed at any time. This would allow us the ability to find better solutions with ideas based on full information and knowledge.
“As we may think” made an impression on and affected in a profound way the research and work of people such as: Douglas Engelbart, Ted Nelson, Robert Kahn, Tim Berners-Lee, Michael Lesk, Nicholas Negroponte, Raj Reddy and Alan Kay.
Bush’s article predicted and, in many cases, inspired technologies such as: personal computers, hypertext, the Internet, the World Wide Web, voice recognition and online encyclopedias like Wikipedia. Furthermore, “As We May Think” united thousands of scientists around a common text that aspired to create a better world through technology.
That is the power of manifestos. They join us together in the dream of a better future. They transform us. They push us to go from mere observers of reality to creators of a new reality. Manifestos express our principles and intentions. The design world is no stranger to these types of texts. To cite a few:
- (1919), The Bauhaus Manifesto, Walter Gropius
- (1964), First Things First, Ken Garland
- (1987), Ten Rules of Good Design, Dieter Rams
- (2012), Web Design Manifesto 2012, Jeffrey Zeldman
Today, we are on the threshold of a new leap. The design of products and services is receiving attention from major companies, as shown by the recent acquisition of Fjord by Accenture. The focus is turning from marketing and technology to design as a driving force of business, and we designers are experiencing this change without completely understanding the implications of this new situation.
Corporate profit is a worthy objective, and Good Design is the fundamental tool for attaining it. But there is the temptation to apply dubious techniques that turns design into a mere superficial layer that plays with the users’ psychology and emotions. It is at these times when what is really needed is a shared belief, a moral stance that is defended by the entire profession; in short, a manifesto.
The motto of MIT Media Lab -founded by Nicholas Negroponte- is “Inventing a better future.” Almost 100% of its funding is provided by private companies that benefit from its research. The scientists working at MIT demonstrate that in addition to generating multimillion-dollar patents, we can dream of a better world and manufacture a One laptop per child in the third world.
What are the designers of our generation dreaming of?
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