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Essay

Our Hopes For The Future of Design

by Grace Bonney

Pattern above by Deanne Cheuk (download here)

This is the final week of Design*Sponge. I’ve been scared to write that sentence all summer, but the time is here, and I want to make these last few posts go beyond products or trends. For me, the heart of design has always been about the people behind the things we love — what makes them tick, what makes them feel inspired, and what we can all do to support the creative community we love. So as we close this chapter and look to the future, I wanted to share our hopes, wishes, and dreams for this community we’ve grown to know and love so well. But before I jump in, I’d love to know: what are your hopes for the future of design? What do you hope design looks, sounds, feels, and operates like in the future? What do you hope for from the future of design media? I’d love to know how you feel and what we can hopefully leave here for future bloggers, makers, and community leaders to take with them as they start new chapters.

  1. Inclusivity, across the board. The biggest mistake I made in my time at Design*Sponge was not creating a space that was welcoming to everyone in the community. I know better now, and I am still learning, but it’s the thing I still hope to see much more of in our community. From blogs and businesses to conferences and investment — our community deserves to see a greater diversity of voices, backgrounds, points of view, and needs supported. Here’s what I hope that will look like as things go forward:
    1. I’d love to see more design media outlets (print, radio, TV and online) run by (but also including the stories of) writers and creatives from underrepresented communities. I want to see more stories told from the points of view of people of color, disabled people, people living with chronic illness, people who have immigrated or come to this county from other places, LGBTQ+ people, people over 50, people living in rural areas, people living on lower or fixed incomes, and those with points of view or experiences that we just don’t see enough of. Design doesn’t move forward, evolve, or become as different and special as it can be if we only hear stories that look like our own.
    2. I’d love to see conferences include all of the people mentioned above in prominent (paid) positions at events. Celebrities are fine, I know they drive ticket sales, but we all benefit and learn more when there are more diverse points of view supported and highlighted.
    3. I’d love to see more inclusive hiring across the board. From the mastheads of print magazines to blog staffs, podcast teams, and at executive levels of trade fairs and trade companies. We don’t get to see industry change if more diverse points of view aren’t included in positions of power.
    4. The same goes for design publishing: I’d love to see more books, magazines, and newspaper columns going to people who can understand the design world from a different point of view and background.
    5. What does that mean for all of us? It means I hope we can all continue to speak up and take action to ensure everyone in our community is welcome, represented, supported, and compensated equally in our community. It might be uncomfortable at times, but it’s work I hope we all keep trying to do every chance we get. (Here are some ways to do that).
  2. A Better Understanding of Living Wages (and Prices). One of the things I struggle with as I end this chapter, is feeling like I wasn’t able to move the needle as much as I wanted when it comes to the idea of understanding why indie/handmade design costs more and why, even if we can’t afford it, we can learn to respect those rates. I understand why we all want more affordable design, but one of my biggest goals was to make sure everyone who read here understood why smaller design brands and makers needed to charge higher rates. I don’t know if we were able to do that, but I hope as time goes on, people will be able to hold both truths (that handmade work costs more and it won’t be in everyone’s budget) without judgement or shaming. I’d love to see that concept extend to all types of design: including box store. If we want to buy less expensive new furniture, I hope our community will keep digging into how these prices are lower and if they’re tied to unethical production or forced labor. And if they are, I hope we’ll band together to demand an end to unethical production methods and unfair labor practices.
  3. Environmental Sustainability. This is an issue that I have always looked to our blogging colleagues at Inhabitat for leadership in. So many of my early blogging colleagues led with eco-design and sustainability concerns and it’s an issue I wish I’d spent more time on. So much of my interest in that issue was connected to DIY and reuse, rather than new technology, but I am hopeful that as design moves forward, we’ll embrace and investigate ways to make new design more environmentally sustainable and work together to move away from design that puts our planet in danger.
  4. Less Judgement, More Enthusiasm for What’s Different. Like all style-based communities, design has always been about what’s new, cool, on-trend, and popular. But as we grow and evolve, I hope our community will always make room for voices and styles and designs that are different, not concerned with trends, or are standing out for doing something against “the rules.” Our world has a lot of rules and restrictions already. I hope as our community goes forward we embrace all of the different ways there are to build, decorate, and live in a home and move away from telling people that anything is “wrong” or a “mistake” or a “no no,” when it comes to expressing your personal style.
  5. MORE FUN. More than anything, I miss a little bit of the fun I used to feel around design when I first started out. And honestly, I think a lot of that is because any time you make what you love your job, it tends to lose a little bit of the shine. And that’s okay — that’s part of the process of building a business. But I used to feel like things were a little grittier, messier, less perfect, and less polished. I loved that DIY energy. I think social media has made it so that we expect brand new products and projects to be perfect and expertly branded from the second they’re launched. And that doesn’t always leave room for scrappiness — a quality I love in design. So I hope that perhaps as new social media channels grow and arrive, we’ll find space for design (products, projects, media, events) to be a little bit rougher around the edges when it starts out. That raw state is where some really special things happen.
  6. Knowing Our Sources of Inspiration: The internet moves so fast, and these days I see websites like Pinterest and Instagram listed as sources for images and ideas. But knowing where things come from — especially culturally — is important. Cultural Appropriation is a complex and nuanced issue, but it’s one that our design community would benefit from talking about more and really getting into. I want to see so many of the communities that have created popular styles (i.e: Otomi patterns, Mud Cloth, Shibori etc.) be studied, written about, credited, and appreciated as much as the people who are interpreting them in modern times. It expands our minds, worlds, and ability to be inspired when we look at and learn from cultures, backgrounds, and traditions that are different from our own. So as we move forward, I hope we’ll keep citing those sources of inspiration, celebrating them, and introducing those sources as part of any project or product that uses them as a point of inspiration or reference.
  7. Design to Give Back: Our community is rich with resources. From ideas and expertise to skills, education, experience, and financial backing — the design world is full of people and businesses that are in a position to help those in need. My greatest hope is that our community keeps doing more of what it’s already doing so well in so many spaces — giving back. Design has the power to connect people and not just tell stories, but to tell stories that better explain problems and pain points in our world, and how we can work together to fix them. I want to see us all band together and share whatever resources we have to help those in need in our community. It doesn’t take a lot of time or effort to plug in, but whenever you can, please do. Whether that’s volunteering locally with Habitat for Humanity or a local family shelter or donating your time, money, or skills to a community in need near you, or starting a product line or entire company that donates to a cause that’s important to you— don’t forget that at our core, we are a community of talented and creative problem solvers. Design is at its most beautiful when it is making sure that everyone feels safe and supported at home.

What do you hope to see as the design community grows and evolves into the future? xo, Grace

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Comments

  • Grace…

    Thank you for ALL that you gave to Design Sponge and community. It has been so fun following along. I am excited to see what your next adventure will be. As you close the door to DS it will be exciting to see what door opens. Closing it doesn’t mean it has to stay locked…who knows, maybe someday you will open DS again in a different way.

    Wishing you much happiness and success today, tomorrow, and every day thereafter…

    With warm regards,

    Elizabeth

  • Years ago you promoted some indie designers on Etsy and I was proud to be able to buy their work (it was affordable!). I have one print that’s been on a lot of different walls over the years. My life now looks a lot different than it did 15-ish years ago when I bought it and I’m grateful. But seeing it is a good reminder of where I’ve been, how far I’ve come and some of the lessons you’ve shared over the years. So thank you!

  • Thank you Grace for everything I’ve viewed and learned from Design Sponge. I’ve really come to appreciate design from an entirely different perspective and you’ve really helped me to tune into how important design is to EVERYONE’s life. No one should ever feel invisible or that they don’t matter. Thank you for promoting the spirit of inclusiveness.

  • Dear Grace and Design Sponge family, A simple and sincere thank you for aiming at, striving for and doing your work with all people and their conditions/circumstances in mind. If only more would use their gifts and talents with their heart at the center of it all. Many blessings returned to all of you in your futures! Carol

  • Hi Grace,
    Thank you for all the work you put into DS, I can’t even imagine how you did it for all those years.
    My only wish is that I “found you” earlier, I have been visiting the site for years here and there, but I was not a regular visitor. Now I regret that and I am going back through the archives trying to catch up.
    Will the site remain up and accessible after August 31st? I really hope so!

    I would like to wish you lots of luck and gratification in your future endeavors and you will be dearly missed.