I recently received an announcement for what may be an
interesting design conference, except it roused my suspicion with
the claim: “A celebration of multidisciplinary design innovation
starring 22 of the world's most remarkable design visionaries who
are changing the way we see the world.” I bristle when I hear words
like “visionary.” Who ordained them as Design Visionaries? Is this
one of those hyperbolic claims like when the TV weatherman, Dr.
Forecaster, boasts a bogus PhD in meteorology?
Retro-future illustration from Russian magazine Teknika
Let's ask ourselves: What is a Design Visionary? Where does one
fit on the design hierarchy? Is it below Design Genius and above
Design Thinker? Where is it situated in relation to your
run-of-the-mill Designer? Is a Design Visionary a few steps above?
And how do you become one? Is there a qualifying exam similar to
the Eagle Scouts? Can you be voted into the “DV” club? Can you
aspire to be a Design Visionary? Or must you be born to the role?
Is there a statute of limitations? Can you be a DV your entire
life—even if nothing visionary comes to pass? Or is there a
periodic Design Visionary evaluation?
I'm pretty sure that none of the individuals honored with the
Design Visionary honorific call themselves Design Visionaries (or
do they?). It is usually the organizer or master of ceremonies that
makes such claims. But just in case one is looking for Design
Visionary status (and wants to put the initials DV on their
business card), below is a handy little checklist to become a bona
Make at least one design breakthrough every two years (that's
not too much to ask). Breakthroughs might include, on a sliding
scale, everything from developing a new typographic language for
the post-digital future to a sustainable alternative to Post-its to
a theory on how to monetize creativity.
Write a design manifesto with enough bullet points so that
design teachers can assign a different poster to at least ten
undergraduates at a time that typographically and pictorially
illustrate each point.
Answer the “what is the future of design?” question without
referencing a new computer operating system, program or app.
Design at least one novel product that enables designers to
design better design that will make the world a better place—iPad
apps are acceptable.
Never use in a lecture, essay or conversation about design the
terms “design innovation” and “bandwidth” (in any context, even a
Get invited to a conference, congress or gathering that is not
organized by design organizations. The Economic Summit at Davos is
acceptable, but a little old hat. A real visionary should be
invited by an emerging nation or NGO that caters to emerging
Mentor not one but three future visionaries, who must, during
the course of being mentored, make a minor breakthrough that will
be recognized by the design and mainstream press.
Publish at least one book (not self-published through Blurb or
Lulu) that condenses all your beliefs and wisdom into a collection
of visual aphorisms that are at once witty and profound, and use
neutral typefaces to avoid being identified with any style that
could be deemed trendy.
Turn down all offers to speak at conferences, congresses or
gatherings (other than the one noted above) unless your payment is
referred to as a “fee” and not “honorarium,” signifying you are
receiving a significant rate.
State categorically that you no longer make things, because
making things is no longer innovative, and designers make too many
things anyway. Then six months later end your moratorium by
declaring that making things is “what designers do.”
Do not associate with other design visionaries (even if they are
old friends), lest you be considered part of a clique. A design
visionary must be independent and above the fray.
Take a year or two off from being a visionary, and give others a
chance. You can always return—it's like riding a bicycle.
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