Better ballot design could have changed the results of the 2000 election. A better design for information sharing might have prevented 9/11. Now, could design thinking help fix something fundamentally broken in American democracy: how we engage in national debate?
What will life be like 20 or 30 years from now? That used to be a question for futurists, now global climate change makes it something we all think about. The trouble is that the way we think and talk about our impact on the environment is measured in statistics and abstracts. But there is a more tangible way to imagine what that future will look like...
Those who have stuck with me all week, know that I believe that participation is key to the next big wave of innovation in business and society. Whether it is in the fundamentals of how we think about wealth or the economy, how we parse the minutiae of individual transactions, or how we evolve our most important social systems such as health care, I believe that the interconnectedness of our information society makes this shift inevitable and highly desirable.
The question that I inevitably ask as a designer is how we design these kinds of participatory systems?
In the U.K. in the 1940s, Sir William Beveridge designed what became known as the welfare state. In an ambitious program, the post-war Labor government attempted to put in place a series of services designed to ensure that the population of Britain could reliably receive high-quality public education, health care and other public services. Beveridge envisioned a system in which citizens participated directly in their own well-being. Instead, he helped create what he later described as a "culture of consumption" of public services.
A significant difference between those of us fortunate to be living above the poverty line and those unfortunate enough to be at the "bottom of the pyramid" is that the 'wealthy' can afford to consume. Being a "useful" member of a consumer society requires the consumption of products and services not directly necessary to survival. The very poor do not generally have that choice.
When I consider bidding for something on e-Bay, the first thing I do is check the reliability rating of the seller. When I want to meet a hard-to-reach executive, I try to establish a link through my network. When I consider which conference I will pay to attend, I choose TED because I know it will give me the most new ideas to feed off for the year.