Note — Feb 28, 2021

Against Performative Positivity

Danah Abdulla with an important reflection on the role of designers and how they approach the work they do. From the powerful and underestimated driver of convenience, to sometimes questioning some products but not often enough the question of consumption itself, to the fakeness of a lot of “doing good,” to being political, and finally on the importance of some pessimism (yes) instead of an oft blinding and obfuscating focus on positivism and hope.

“Hope is an emotion, a yearning, the experience of which is not entirely within our control. Optimism is a cognitive stance, a conscious expectation, which presumably anyone can develop through practice. […]

Problems are complex, but design educators want to make them simple. That is why design is all about the toolkit, and design thinking is condensed into a few steps. The complexity requires an engagement with different disciplinary, conceptual, theoretical, and methodological frameworks. […]

[T]ransformative means conjuring up seemingly impossible scenarios of what design could be collectively. To effect any societal change, design needs politics. A politicized designer is a collective designer, because designing is not an activity accomplished by one person. […]

Designers must move away from this positive, optimistic attitude that denies the place of any negativity, an attitude that denies realism. Optimism forces people to blame themselves for their own failures and misery; to never look at the structures of power that contribute to this.