Daniel Miller

Ethical Design

In 2008 I quoted Hakim Bey, from a no-longer-on-the-web article:

Where did we cross that line where we forgot that making a documentary about how everyone would like to have a food co-op is not the same as having a food co-op? I think some people have lost that distinction. Now, about art in the service of the revolution: There is no art in the service of the revolution, because if there’s no revolution, there’s no art in its service. So to say that you’re an artist but you’re progressive is a schizo position. We have only capital, so all art is either in its service or it fails. Those are the two alternatives. If it’s successful, it’s in the service of capital. I don’t care what the content is…

I’m not really sure how to transition between that and the rest of my thoughts that followed. In my mind, they are connected. But upon re-reading this post I realize there’s no logical connection I can put in words at this time.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about humility as it relates to design and entrepreneurship. Humility allows for simplicity. Simplicity is a cornerstone of not only good product design, but the design of a good life.

I often look to Dieter Rams as an example of excellent design that came from a place of deep empathy and authentic humility. The School of Life on Dieter Rams:

Being simple can make you feel vulnerable. But simplicity is really an achievement–it follows from hard-won clarity about what matters.

Modesty is the opposite of being showy. It is part of a broader ideal of service–which is a central ideal of good capitalism. One is not there to attract attention; one is there to help the customer to live a better life.

True modesty comes from confidence. Modesty is a lack of anxiety about being ignored.

In 2010 I replied to a post (at yet another dead link) titled Why there are no legendary web designers.

If all you think of when you think of the web is TechCrunch and CNN then no, certainly not. But there are some amazing artists doing work designed and delivered on the web. Similarly, there are some very famous artists who used low-fidelity technologies centrally in their art.

It’s interesting to me how experience and humility engenders less-strong opinions. In 2000, I might have written a piece like Why there are no legendary web designers. By 2010 I was defending an entire internet of digital artists. Today, I would probably just dismiss the original article and move on with my life, a life largely centered around the struggle to make something meaningful, and appreciating that it is a lot more work than I ever realized earlier in my life.

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