When change occurs, design has an opportunity to rise to the occasion. As designers, I think it’s safe to say we want to be as original as possible. We strive to be inspired by the unexpected, then translate this into a useful product. When rapid change occurs, we as designers are faced with a choice with how to respond. This is where “reactive design” can rear its ugly head.
Perhaps the most recent example of this occurring in design was in the workplace during the first half of 2020. With good reason, organizations were grasping for ideas to keep people safe at work. And just like that plexiglass sales soared. Offices from coast to coast were being outfitted with these clear dividers around every desk, in hopes that they would keep everyone safe (and productive).
In hindsight, we can all see this was a very reactive response. But why is this not ideal?
- Environmental Impact: Imagine the waste produced as a result of this reactive approach. Producers of acrylic / plexiglass panels couldn’t even keep up with the demand. Thousands of sheets produced to make dividers that are soon to be in the landfill, if not already there.
- I have learned being hyper-reactive as a designer will always put you one step behind. I say “hyper-reactive” because in essence, we are all somewhat reacting to solve any given problem with a design solution. Being “hyper-reactive” is more like a knee-jerk reaction. A decision derived from panic and fear. If these emotions are driving your creative process, the result is likely going to be undesirable.
So what’s a better way?
- Strive to be proactive.
pro·ac·tive – creating or controlling a situation by causing something to happen rather than responding to it after it has happened.
Now, I know we are not likely predicting pandemics, but what if we designed in a way that offered more control to the end user? Specifically with office environments, if we can design furniture systems with more of an “open source” mentality, then it’s easier to shift when the unexpected comes our way. Subtle adjustments opposed to harsh reaction.
Being proactive in design is not easy. I am by no means yet a master in this discipline, but I do believe through practicing patience and observation, we can design more thoughtful products in the midst of inevitable change.