The International Design Center in Tokyo, and the Japan Industrial Design Promotion Organization recently hosted the International Design Symposium 2011 for international design leaders from education, industry and government. Symposium speakers included: Mary McBride of Pratt Institute, graduate program in Design Management, Patrick Whitney of IIT and Uday Athavankar of Indian Institute of Technolgy, Miles Pennington of Royal College of Art, Tomoko Ina, from the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, Yoshiaki Takahashi, of the Economic and Social Research Institute of Japan, Akihiko Ishizuka, Head of Global Design Business, Fujitsu Design Limited and Jun Furuya, Director of Incubation Design Center, Hitachi, Ltd., Yusuke Ashizawa of JIDPO. Haruo Hashimoto of JIDPO acted as moderator.
Mary McBride Ph.D., Director of the graduate program in Design Management at Pratt Institute, discussed designing the desire for economies that enrich individuals, companies and societies through new measures of happiness.
“Today, we begin a conversation about new measures of happiness, but first we must examine some of the old measures and the mindsets that support them. Our current measures of happiness are connected to our current mindsets about the design of the good life. Using our current mindset, the good life is defined as one where profits grow (ROI), gross domestic product grows (GDP) and incomes grow. Growth is not the same as prosperity. Economic growth is not proving to be a very good measure of either prosperity or happiness. Prosperity is less about growth and more about thriving.
Our current measures of happiness do not allow us to measure this quality of aliveness and joy. Assumed to be happy if our companies and countries grow richer and we have more money to spend. Can money really buy happiness?
It helps to have money, but some of the wealthiest nations and companies contain people who report that they are not only not happy – they are really unhappy, increasingly angry, and even dangerous when they cannot purchase happiness or afford the good life. When even the rich and famous are not happy – maybe we should worry?
Designers don’t worry. Designers define, discover, design & deliver. Let’s take a look at “happy”. Happy is a 12th century western word that shares a root with another western word “happen”. To be happy meant to have a happy fate—to be favored by mysterious, unseen, god-like forces, to live the good life.
Modern man did not like the idea of a happiness that depended on fate, especially a fate controlled by unseen and often uncaring god-like forces. Such an idea made him feel puny and small and helpless. Modern man wanted to feel more powerful. He wanted to make his own happiness, to shape it with his own hands and to design his fate or at least outrun it. So, he made tools to feed, clothe and shelter himself.
Not a bad idea. Somewhere along the way, modern man fell in love with the idea of creating a world that separated him from his world and mirrored only his desires. He created an idea of a good life in which each person was happy when his own desires were met. Countries and companies began to organize themselves around the same idea – and began to invent economic measures of happiness like GDP. We all tried to escape our fate and the invisible forces that attempted to control us. We stole fire, defied gravity, stopped time. But invisible forces still control us – including the invisible hand of the market, and we are not happy.
We have defined our lives, our companies and our societies around a very limited definition of happiness a happiness that can be purchased in man-made markets filled with man-made “goods”. We discovered that man-made happiness has invisible costs that are becoming more visible.
This is a design problem –a problem of intention. We designed with a narrow intention and an unbalanced mindset. We discovered the lack of balance. We need a new design intention. We need to deliver solutions. We need a new mindset, and to define new measures of happiness that connect our happiness to the happiness of others and to our shared world. We need to design a world where our economic growth helps all of life to grow, a world where economies prosper serving people & planet. But how do we design an economic system that creates economic prosperity as it increases the happiness of people and the aliveness of our planet? How do we create a world that is triple bottom line by design?
Not a bad design assignment – let’s begin by balancing mindsets. Align our individual intentions, our company intentions and our societal intentions around a new idea that is really an ancient one. It need not be difficult. Our ancestors may not have spoken about designing a triple bottom line. But they knew that we could not really be happy in the midst of great suffering. If our planet did not prosper, our people would not prosper. They knew that our happiness would not come from trying to escape from unseen forces; we cannot manufacture a life separate from life. They knew that we must work with invisible forces and create tools to shape our fate, not control it, or we would perish. They knew that the good life was a fully human life, a life that included surprise and wonder, a life that was fragile and finite – we have not forgotten – it is “wired in”. We are designed to explore, and to experience joy. We need each other and our life support system. We are fragile; we suffer if our air is polluted and our water filled with toxins. Our new happiness brief should measure how our economy nourishes our bodies, feeds our spirits and encourages our love for each other. Companies are beginning to design and deliver happiness to their customers, employees and to our shared world. They are designing their brand identity around the promise of triple bottom line by design. They are creating economic value as they serve society.
So how do you take this conversation into your companies and make it real? We only need a new design intention. The transformation to new measures of company performance and happiness built around a triple bottom line has begun. We need only to keep it moving – and create a little design magic.”