Hyperakt, Purpose, and 21st Century Design
Do meaningful stuff that matters the most: it’s my mantra for a movement dedicated to toppling the old order, and seeding the green shoots of a better economy instead. So here's a textbook candidate. Check out Hyperakt: a design studio based in Brooklyn, whose motto is “meaningful design for the common good”.
What’s so awesome about that? One way to see that mission is as the basis for a simple market positioning strategy: Hyperakt’s trying to grab a share of the underserved market for nonprofits, and the nascent market for social entrepeneurship. All very well.
But I think there might be more to the story than that. What’s the purpose of a bigger purpose? Well, my hunch is that when we find the work we do meaningful, inspiring, elevating, fulfilling – it’s then that we transcend the boundaries of everyday ideas, effort, and performance. We go, in other words, the extra mile, that no bonus, salary, or stock option plan can really compel us to – because we feel impelled to. So by having a bigger purpose, it just might be that Hyperakt’s building a 21st century design studio: the crucible of big, world-changing ideas.
And that sense of enduring worth, of bigger purpose might just be the shot in the arm design needs. Consider: yesterday, in an industrial age, the economy demanded designers of mass-made “product”, and the mega-marketing that crammed them into your gullet. But If tomorrow’s economy isn’t powered by yesterday’s self-destructive industrial age stuff, then the job of tomorrow’s designers probably isn’t just prettifying it; disguising toxic gunk with superficial gloss, and then helping seduce “consumers” into leveraging themselves through the nose to buy more, more, more of it. So today’s Great Transition is also a looming challenge for designers – to think bigger, harder, better.
Designing not just products, logos, and brandmarks – but stuff that's emergent, dynamic, irreducible, complex, nonlinear. Stuff like institutions, communities, societies, organizations, maybe even economies: that’s where I see the future of the industrial age discipline known as “design” heading. It’s neatly expressed up in a recent tweet by John Maeda: “Great design is the right combination of aesthetics, ergonomics, and economics”. Hyperakt, then, might just be one the seeds of an awakening, of eyes opening up to the novel competencies and capabilites the 21st century demands of – and the new possibilities it offers to – designers.