Responding to a Crisis of Trust

“This is a crisis not only of credit, but a crisis of trust.”

– UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Davos 2009

Thanks to everyone who has emailed prodding for news of what’s coming up next. Those who know me realise I don’t really understand the concept of downtime, so when it’s quiet on the blog, that means there’s a lot going on behind the scenes, which has certainly been the case. Now it’s time to pull back the curtain a bit and announce one of my major projects for 2009: Design TRUST.

The majority of the crises crippling national and international economies, the environment, politics and culture can be distilled to a central problem – a crisis of trust. Trust is a complex notion – it is incredibly difficult to build, yet very easy to destroy. It is an allusive concept, yet an absolutely essential element in our communal, economic and personal lives. At times trust can feel almost like an emotion, a form of comfort, yet this fragile element of our lives carries a heavy economic burden, for as a society’s trust declines, so does its economic prosperity. This is where we are today. We clearly have a problem, and so in collaboration with The Premsela Foundation I created and am directing the global Design TRUST initiative to explore the contribution that design disciplines can make in solving our current crisis of trust. We have to ask these questions anew within our current context:

  • What are the ingredients of trust?
  • Can you design trust?
  • Can you trust design?

Design has a proud tradition of being driven by social and cultural responsibility and possessing an awareness of its role in our lives beyond being a vehicle for maximising profit. Along its historical journey however, design’s genetic code of directly serving our needs seems to have been mixed with too much marketing DNA, as suddenly the creation of the need became a design discipline, and the designed response to the perceived, rather than the actual, need its evil twin. To paraphrase Milton Glaser, good design at some point came to mean good business – and now it’s time to restore design’s relationship with the word good. As Glaser said in his “ten things I have learned” essay:

“It’s interesting to observe that in the new AIGA’s code of ethics there is a significant amount of useful information about appropriate behaviour towards clients and other designers, but not a word about a designer’s relationship to the public. We expect a butcher to sell us eatable meat and that he doesn’t misrepresent his wares… We can accept certain kinds of misrepresentation, such as fudging about the amount of fat in his hamburger but once a butcher knowingly sells us spoiled meat we go elsewhere. As a designer, do we have less responsibility to our public than a butcher?”

It is in this context that Design TRUST is launched. Design TRUST is an initiative to explore how to renew our trust in design, and ultimately how trust itself can be designed in the process. In a world so jaded by a lack of trust in our services, products and institutions, there is no route left but to strip trust and its relationship to design it down to its ingredients and rebuild it.

We are at the very early beginnings of the project, but as the inititial meetings just wrapped up in Amsterdam earlier this week, I wanted to share the news. The website, public forums, global thinktanks, new approaches, endless cycles of jetlag… it’s all to come. But at the heart of it all will be an open, transparent process hugely created, populated and informed by public contribution, both in and outside of established design practice, so watch this space for more info as it rolls out.