It is a question that is intentionally broad and open because we don’t know what we don’t understand. We find ourselves thinking, ‘This problem is so big — and so urgent. With so much resistance and inaction, how can anything we do possibly make a difference?’

I used to think this feeling of overwhelm and dread was because I hadn’t been paying as much attention to the problem or the solution. If I just learned more, I’d know what to do. BUT. That’s not how it works.

Understanding the problem and potential solutions in some depth is necessary, but not enough. A linear problem-solving approach won’t work here.

Beyond understanding the problem and learning about the solutions, we need to hold space for our very human reactions to this very existential crisis. This has been one of my biggest ‘aha moments’ during this exploration. I’ve learned it is entirely normal and expected for us to feel a wide spectrum of things, and for us to have varying capacitiesmental and emotional bandwidthto take things on.

The capacity space is really rich and interesting. It helps us with more complex questions like, ‘How can we face this existential and scary thing and still have the hope and strength to act?’

I have been using the framework of the problem, solution and capacity spaces to organize my thinking around how the practice of design and innovation needs to evolve to meet the existential challenge and enormous opportunity.

  1. How do we understand the scope scale and urgency of the problem, and also the nature of the problem? Why has it been hard for us to collectively understand and grapple with it?
  2. What solutions are out there? What kind of world will those solutions build?
  3. How can we build our individual and collective capacities for change and resilience?

The Role of Design During Crisis

Design is the choices we make about the world we want to live in. Right? We can’t pretend we live in a bubble where some of the bigger issues of our times don’t actually matter. They do. And by not seeing that, we might not be doing the best design work that we want to be doing. So it feels essential to be considering that.

It’s true in technology where we’re talking about how algorithms aren’t neutral. They carry the same biases as the people that write them. Similarly, the design choices we make aren’t neutral. Every choice we make is sitting inside of a system, and that system is functioning in a particular way. So our design choices are ultimately supporting and perpetuating certain systems, certain behaviors that we should be aware of. And to not be an activist is kind of like saying we want to take the lazy way out here. We don’t really want to do the work to understand how our designs are meeting the world. And that seems like a pity because we have the skills to help people imagine a new future.