Design Units

The more complex the unit of design, the less we are likely to question it. Simple products can be easily evaluated; when a bottle opener doesn’t work we’re happy to point to its flaws. But we rarely do this with systems, organisations, governments.

We rely on our direct relationship with things to provide our opportunity to critique them. My nan’s relationship with democracy often came down to which doorstopping man looked the “nicest”. That’s not a criticism of her, it’s simply a statement of how much mental energy we can all be bothered to expend on anything more abstract than that which we’re shown.

Perhaps we judge our local government on whether our bins get collected. In democracy terms it’s about as valid as the nice-looking man. In many cases this inability to think about anything bigger than our direct point of contact with something is used against us. Charities don’t ask us to question whether the unit of a charity is the best way to help people in need, they just tell us the story of one person.

This blind acceptance of the core unit of design, whether it’s a business or an entire system of democracy, changes over time. We’re beginning to show a similar indifference to the fundamental existence of a whole new set of design units, from startups to platforms. And as with everything else we’re falling for the actors without thinking about the play.

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