me designer

We all want superstars, supermodels – or an ‘idol’!

Millions of TV-viewers are following seemingly ordinary people in their battle against competition and aim to shine in the limelight – and with that to gain fame and fortune! It seems to be irrelevant what these people actually do, they just have to convince ‘the jury’ with features others don’t have: if you’re not the prettiest, then be the ugliest; if you can’t sing like Pavarotti, why not name the cat food brand by sniffing at your kitties poo? To be at the top of the ladder, it’s essential to be unique and to deliver uniqueness – and it doesn’t matter if the uniqueness doesn‘t add to anything, it just has to add to yourself.

This phenomena we all know way back from our school days, where it was so important to climb the ladder as well, to be on top, to deliver unique results and get top grades – because, we all needed to become superstars! That’s why schools and higher education had their pupils focus on achieving better grades through self-centred learning. This kind of learning is related only to the individual, who should deliver the result only by himself, and with that create intellectual ownership over what is accomplished. And all this should cumulate into being the best! (And if the individual achievement was not sufficient, well, you quickly borrowed from someone else – you just had to avoid being caught.)

What originally was introduced as a (well-meant) pedagogic practice to make pupils learn and deliver results independently, has turned many generations into self-focussed elbow-fighters (or cheaters). Maybe you recall those schoolmates, who were so anxious to follow-up on the instruction to work in solitude: they would build-up a wall of books and pencil-cases around their exercise books, and additionally, they would cover it all up by leaning forward and putting their arm around it, in order to write down their work, so that nobody could take a glimpse – someone could steal their idea! The main reason wasn’t to protect their work from copy-cats, but the true reason was to get ahead of the competition: in the end, it’s all about the award the winner gets, and that award you want to have for yourself!

It seems you can discover this behaviour with many creatives and designers as well since they live from the uniqueness of their work and the ‘intellectual property’ attached to it. What used to be small pencil-cases, now are full-blown portfolio books, in which the unique ideas and work-pieces are protected from copying until they are released at the right moment and place: like on the ‘catwalk’ at designer fairs, or on related websites, as well as at the interviews for those few jobs, which are still out there – because also the business is looking for the superstar, the super- designer!
And that’s why soon all designers could be freelancers, so that they can present their design-super-powers from project to project, in order to become the ‘juries’ favourite. What remains is the hope to be ‘scouted’ by a headhunter, or a generous manufacturer… in order to become the ‘superstar’ at last.
Some companies make use of this phenomena and deliberately fire-up the competition between agencies and freelancers so that the best might win. If truly the best gets done, is an open question.

It gets even more tricky when not the best design, but the best product needs to be developed: you can communicate great designs, but you only can sell products. And these are part of services, who are delivered through people in a collective manner. In here lies the true challenge for those many companies, in which many functions are held by interim personnel who hardly know each other, or may not want to know, because they compete with each other. The result out of this is commonly known: alienation, anonymity, short term and egoistic thinking, which in the end all results in impersonal and distant experiences towards the customers.
But this is exactly what customers are fed-up with, and that is why it is no coincident that we all massively abandon those banks, telcos and drug stores. But we also abandon politics and society as a whole…

Is this sustainable? Can we meet the challenges of the future, where we need to develop better solutions for our society and economy? Is a model, where one serves himself alone, the one which will bring us these solutions? You know the answer yourself, and most likely you already act accordingly: we need new and different models and approaches, to break through egoism and to create those incentives that make us focus on common goals. And that’s why it is so good to see that increasingly those companies prevail, who follow up on this: for instance here in Germany, where drugstore chain dm (initially laughed at, because it made its trainees take theatre lessons, to learn to play together) is now taking over from competitor Schlecker (known for its cost-down, rational business ethics) by delivering on an authentic and human-centred company philosophy and with that, obviously hitting the nail on the head.

Also, a lot is happening in (higher)education, where there is an increased focus on collective learning, workshops and interdisciplinary activities.
One way to break through egoism – and with that to have design students first focus on others and then on themselves – would be to grade the total class: according to the motto “cling together, swing together”. The learning effect would be certainly different, if students would need to support each other, in order to collectively become better, rather than individually sustain. Completely forgotten and underdeveloped competencies would be demanded and brought to the surface, those, who are desperately needed in a future job, where the mantra should be to improve the issues together.

Because in future nor the avengers, nor designer superstars will save our economy, but those many well-designed propositions, which aim it is to deliver meaningful experiences – and that can only be done through people who bring along the matching competencies.

For that we don’t need me-designers, we need we-designers!

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