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Recently I attended the 2013 Rotterdam Design Prize ceremony. The design prize remains one of the few prizes – in the Netherlands and abroad – that makes no distinction between the different design disciplines. I took home an important message from the discussion of jury members – Design in the times to come will be very much about meaningfulness. One of the scout jury observed, “In a world where technology is becoming ever more influential, it is important to me that designers continue to look critically at what it adds.” Now technology is hardly ever a barrier to making what a designer can imagine. As a result, in western world we often have more varieties of things than we can even grasp. Still, new variants and upgrades continue to be added at an ever increasing pace. In this regard it is interesting to watch a video by Lernert & Sander, which is a sarcastic commentary on the ridiculous variety of stuff that we have (in this case, perfumes).

Isn’t time ripe for designers to critically ask themselves, what they are really adding to their subjects’ inner lives by their designs? In sync with the general opinion of the jury, the award went to a tablet/smart phone app that allows schizophrenia patents to tackle on their own, the problem of hearing voices in their head*. The simple app beat nominations such as a flying car and a fancy smoking costume, among others.

Modernism was about emphasis on function and rationality. Post-modernism was (is) about self-expression. Perhaps now we are entering a new era in design – ‘the era of meaningfulness’. And the shift is not just being trumpeted by a handful of elite designers and critics. Quite interestingly, I observed a similar opinion coming from a company, which is as business oriented as any company can be! In his first email to Microsoft employees, CEO Satya Nadella observed – “…doesn’t mean that we need to do more things, but that the work we do empowers the world to do more of what they care about.” It so happens, meaningfulness makes a lot of business sense in present times. Aren’t market capitalizations of companies based on investors’ perception? If something ain’t meaningful, will you value it?

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* P.S.: During one of my master’s courses in 2012, I developed the original concept behind the award winning design for schizophrenia patients. The concept was taken by Parnassia Group (the sponsoring organization of the course), and developed into its present form with the help of a design agency, Reframing Studio.

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