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For Centennial Voices, part of AIGA's Centennial celebration of the past, present and future of design, we've invited industry leaders to write short essays that spark conversations within the design community and beyond by sharing personal experiences,
reflecting on design history, examining the practice today or imagining the role of designers in the years to come.
Information designer and educator John Caserta reflects on the past hundred years that led up to today’s most galvanizing design, and how we can use it to shape the hundred years to come.
In 2007, I left the solitude of a home practice and founded The Design Office, a shared workspace in downtown
Providence, Rhode Island. I was looking for a community of like-minded, independent practitioners and wasn’t finding one through online groups and
coffee-shop dates. And in the seven years since establishing the Office, there’s an identifiable community of designers. This community has been built
through consistent physical interactions at the bookshelves, in the kitchen, around shared tables, with the tools and by doing the work itself—whether in
collaboration or just in close proximity. For more than thirty members, The Design Office has been a place worth going to every morning.
If you were to look down from the third-floor window of The Design Office 100 years ago, you would have seen a lively street culture. People were
everywhere: walking, riding streetcars, at newspaper stands, in bank lobbies, in open-air carriages and standing on the sidewalk talking (as evidenced by
the photograph directly below from The Library of Congress). The Providence downtown of 1914 was a model of a thriving public space.
Courtesy of The Library of Congress
The century that followed was the age of the automobile, which atomized the city center in favor of individual spaces. As I consider our field during
AIGA’s centennial year, I believe the iPhone is the new Model T – an invention that promises great freedom, but often times separates us from those
immediately around us. The car is a physical separator, and the smartphone is a temporal one: you’re no longer guaranteed a shared attention space when
you’re inches away from someone.
Le Corbusier’s Contemporary City, 1922
Architects and politicians, seduced by the ideals of the automobile, gutted the infrastructure of many American cities in the 20th century. Seeing how
difficult it‘s been to reinvigorate the public space in Providence, we designers need to take more than a celebratory or evolutionary view of the
smartphone. It’s a device that can lead to many possible futures, most likely dystopic ones like those portrayed in Spike Jonze’s Her or Pixar’s Wall-E.
If critically engaged, the smartphone could facilitate authentic human connection in the same physical and attention space. There are many ways to initiate
these connections: through speculative design, by reframing commissions, through pedagogy and by how we structure our work environments. We need design
that gathers people. We need design that spurs discussion. We need design that encourages us to look in all directions – not just down.
If we become further individualized, how will we unite over the great challenges that will inevitably face our society? Common space does not need to look
the same as it did 100 years ago, but it must exist somewhere. The interface design that’s most needed in the next century is the kind that brings people
John Caserta is founder and director of The Design Office and the Head of the Graphic Design Department at The Rhode Island School of Design. email@example.com
To commemorate AIGA’s 100th anniversary,
we asked design leaders, thinkers, and practitioners to reflect on
the past, present and future of the industry in short personal
essays that we’ll publish over the remainder of the year as part of our
Section: Inspiration -
Celebration, personal essay
Does locality have any meaning? When designers can be anywhere, is it possible to be from somewhere? Twemlow examines the new connectedness.
Section: Inspiration -
life balance, Voice, international
Photography creates a visual metaphor: a universal language that does not require a copious amount of text to be understood
Section: Tools and Resources
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