Harnessing the Super-Power of R+D

June 28, 2016

My late grandmother was a big believer in design. It’s not that she worked in the field, nor do I think she ever read much about it beyond the typical proud-grandma level, but she believed in the power of design.

I know because in the last two years as she was in and out of hospitals, rehab facilities, and her own recently-redecorated home, our conversations began to shift. Instead of discussing our days, they started with her discussing how the design of the hospital bed robbed patients of their self-reliance. We’d discuss how the hospital wing needed a new paint job because it just felt so drab. I learned all about the new robotics her doctor was using—state of the art—to remove tumors with only the slightest incision.

Even if she was only able to see the problems around her, she believed that we, as designers, had the ability to research those problems and develop a solution, thereby changing how she interacted with the world.

And she wasn’t alone in that belief.

I don’t think there’s ever been a time in recent history in which design has been able and willing to make such dramatic changes. It’s not just how technology has advanced—although that has definitely transformed our lives; it’s that we have the science and research to back it up, and a society that is ready to say, “Yes, let’s take these steps; we’re ready for what design has to offerm” rather than dig their heels into the familiar. (Not everyone, of course.)

You’ll notice, however, that in this, our Research+Development issue, there are few high-tech, sci-fi gadgets; there aren’t any hover-boards or self-tying Nikes.

That’s because research and development doesn’t only happen in space or by white-smocked engineers in clean rooms. So often, the research and development that we need starts with the most basic elements.

We see that in the Dressing Room feature on KI’s Chicago Showroom where designer Shawn Green believes the development of space should encourage interaction between visitors. Or in our profile where Janine Benyus—founder of Biomimicry 3.8—turns to nature in finding smarter solutions for our built world.
But, of course, we couldn’t forget to include lasers (Product Evolution, page 50), virtual reality (Product Expose, page 38), and shape-shifting solid forms.
As designers, we have a super power in being able to see the world around ourselves, recognize the problems, and solve them, no matter how much society tells us we should just say “It’s hard” and give up. That’s a super power that has the ability to make the lives of people like my grandma that much better, and we should celebrate it with every new puzzle that comes our way.   
 Kadie Yale | Editor in Chief
[email protected]

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