In our lifetimes, the effects of technology and innovation have been unprecedented. The race to the moon in the 1960s left the entire world scrambling to be part of space exploration, which in turn resulted in more competition for the development of new products—many of which remain familiar parts of our lives. From Velcro to heart monitors, to microwave ovens to helmet padding, the dividends of the space race continue to serve us today.
The innovations that came out of that period also had the effect of introducing us to the greater world of design. Within a generation, demand for products such as automobiles, computers and other tech devices designed with quality, aesthetics and efficiency took hold, and innovators far and wide responded rapidly. But even as Time magazine named the personal computer “Machine of the Year” in 1982, innovative and technological processes from abroad were challenging U.S. businesses (with a few rare exceptions). As other countries quickly embraced, adopted and developed new technologies, the competitive edge shifted overseas, resulting in an advantage and a view that differentiated and created new markets.
We may live in different times now, but technological advancements continue to shift our thinking about the world. Markets are no longer based solely on where one lives or the type of work one does, but on a larger, more global view. The result of expanding markets is evidenced in a world population that has grown dramatically into crowded urban areas. Literacy and health issues have become major concerns for governments and businesses everywhere, and quality of life issues have bubbled to the top.
Furthermore, our increasing drain on the earth’s resources has created a new paradigm for the design and construction of buildings, and provided opportunities for designers to contribute on a meaningful level toward the issues facing the world today. With increased opportunity comes a realization that the design of the built environment has a significant global impact; that realization signals the need for us to collaborate on issues that unite the design professions.
Designers have the potential to be part of a human-centered, global conversation. Working to improve the quality of the environment is a social imperative to which designers can contribute on many levels. The issues that concern designers on a single project in North America are not unlike those facing designers on the other side of the world. Whether it is the design of an energy-efficient building or the use of sustainable materials within a space, creating safe and healthy environments is a paradigm that is intuitively understood by designers, regardless of their location.