I skipped the Boy Scouts too!
December 16, 2008 3:05 PM   Subscribe

David Stairs channels Ivan Illich on design, professionalization, and why he stopped joining clubs.

An occasionally self-indulgent but ultimately thoughtful take on why professional design societies get it wrong, why contests are bad, and why good design doesn't always equal sustainability in developing nations.

Related: Stairs's critique of Cooper-Hewitt's 2007 "Design for the Other 90%"

Ironically, it is from the “developing world” that some of the best curative proposals have emerged (Illich himself worked in Mexico). When I consider deprofessionalizing, I’m drawn to Arvind Lodaya’s letter to a British design student where he says: “I think that as long as design is positioned as a ’service’ that requires a ‘client’ with a typical ‘problem’ or ‘brief’ that she ’solves’ using her ’skills’, there is no way out. Unfortunately, all the well-intentioned efforts made by teachers like myself to sensitize students about the global situation and the role played by design in creating it as such etc. etc., fail as long as this model is perpetuated - even subconsciously.”

Via Design Observer
posted by puckish (10 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
The intro was promising, but I couldn't get past the first half of the article. It's an interesting premise, but the writing style is somewhat mind-numbing.
posted by Phire at 3:33 PM on December 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

At least he doesn't head down that "amateurs will save the world" molehole that rants like that seem to inevitably go.

He makes some good-ish points. Unfortunately, in doing so, he fails to really separate the sense of professionalism one inevitably brings to one's task, borne from time spent personally honing skills and insights, from the codified, institutionalized "professionalism" that he points to as a hindrance to progress. It all sort of gets rolled together in to one large pile of "professional=bad" and, as such, his argument loses wind and focus.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:47 PM on December 16, 2008

Professional = subordinate your skills to someone else's vision, no matter what that vision might be.

Perhaps that is the real problem-- skilled people who don't actually own the skills they use. Or at least, they don't realize that the institution in which they participate is stripping them of their volition.
posted by wuwei at 5:11 PM on December 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

Yeah. I pretty much disagreed with about 85% of what that guy said.
posted by tkchrist at 5:28 PM on December 16, 2008

I got a bit lost too, what was the point of the article? I kept on expecting him to point out what was great about having no professionals around but all I got was a loosely argued point about the joy of interdependence, which I kinda of agree with as an abstract opposition to capitalist paeans to individual empowerment, but i need a bit more than "it feels good" or "it's in the nature of man's vital equilibrium". also the tone in which he chastises professionalism seems to lack a historical understanding of why professionalism came about in the first place sometime in the enlightenment, which was to certify and guarantee moral standards of conduct that were lacking in the guilds that had operated until then.
posted by doobiedoo at 5:29 PM on December 16, 2008

I would also argue that as great as it would be to have some sort of spontaneous way of legitimizing different types of knowledge (although the most obvious way, for everyone to re engage in the manual labour that professional knowledge is meant to organise and manage, doesn't seem to be particularly palatable) de professionalising won't necessarily abolish aristocracy and other evils of subjugation, just ask those Mexican and African communities so envied for being closer to natural states of existence.
posted by doobiedoo at 5:41 PM on December 16, 2008

The second article is a lot better though
posted by doobiedoo at 5:55 PM on December 16, 2008

Why can't we have interdependence *and* professionalism? I just bought Ivan Illich's book on medicine and I find his ideas intriguing-- but at the same time, I recognize the profound benefits of professionalism and not just because they benefit me.

I mean, if you have amateur doctors, you *do* have tons of quackery and just as much capitalism (if not more) infests "alternative medicine" as mainstream. While it may be relationally nicer to see a faith healer, if you have something like tuberculosis, Western medicine is going to cure you even if you feel better while you die with the alternative stuff.

A middle way which recognizes the self-aggrandizing capacity of professional groups as well as their genuine expertise and which includes checks and balances and a constant attempt to reduce inequality seems far more sensible.
posted by Maias at 6:41 PM on December 16, 2008

And *this* is why I joined Metafilter!

I have read a lot about the deprofessionalism manifesto, which we are already seeing in print journalism (and will hopefully spread to broadcast). I think in many businesses the rise of self-trained people doing many jobs will be unstoppable. It's certainly the case in graphic design and IT, although I don't know the exact numbers certainly in the early days most web designers were self-taught.

The American Bar Association has almost totally wiped out the American practice of Reading the Laws, which allows people to study for law school while apprenticing at a law practice instead of attending law school.

I agree with Mr. Stairs re clubs, nearly all of them are beyond useless. Especially dues-paying ones and their often blockheaded opinions on formalization and rules.
posted by parmanparman at 6:51 PM on December 16, 2008

well I cannot say anything here, i was sent this article a couple of times as a link to the blog by the author in the last 24 to 36 hours

otoh, i'm pleasantly surprised to see it as an FPP

interesting discussion

re: Stair's critique on design for the other 90% - he makes excellent points in his critique but leaves out a crucial one , that many solutions already exist, made by hand or thrown together locally but local people. there just aren't any/enough design schools or schools for creative entreprenuership across africa for eg (and even India only has some 3000 or 5000 designers for her population)

imho, what's really required is skills transfer and cross pollination - instead of designing for the other 90%, teach them how to improve their own solutions for their needs, to quote something written on this last year,

"An open source two way exchange of information between the first and the third world would be of more use. I see this in my work that the local inventors are hungry for knowledge, they know what they want to build but feel frustrated by their own lack of education and access to information, which brings me to my next point about technology."
posted by infini at 2:05 AM on December 17, 2008

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