Allison Arieff on “Innovation”

Designer Allison Arieff comments in the NYT this week about contemporary design (i.e., “apps” and related “services”) are “Solving All the Wrong Problems”. She recites the usual litany of stupid and trivial apps e.g., “A “smart” button and zipper that alerts you if your fly is down.”

I’ve been beefing about this myself for quite a while, and she is right on target.

These products are not solving Big Problems, nor are they solving problems that a lot of people actually need solved. She recounts the quip, “for most people working on such projects, the goal is basically to provide for themselves everything that their mothers no longer do.” Exactly.

Arieff notes that these same folks have little interest in (or even knowledge of) the problems of real, but unsexy people, such as working mothers, older workers, or poor people in their own city.

Worse, I would say that this same myopia has leaked into critical social arenas including dating and “the new way of work”. The hackers are not only not solving real problems, they are imposing their own life style on everybody else, and creating problems where there weren’t any.

“Make the world better?”  Not for most of us.

Part of Arieff’s diagnosis is that designers and especially funders (i.e., so called venture capitalists) are interested in “disruption” more than meeting needs, and this means that, as she quotes from Jessica Helfand, “innovation is now predicated less on creating and more on the undoing of the work of others.

If the most fundamental definition of design is to solve problems, why are so many people devoting so much energy to solving problems that don’t really exist? How can we get more people to look beyond their own lived experience?

Arieff sees this as design (and a culture) that is morally adrift. “Can we reset that moral compass?” she asks.

Is there an app for this? Can we disrupt disruption?




Allison Arieff

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