No Silver Bullets:
On the Humility of Designers

Design Management Review


As a global, industrial society, we face serious challenges, and many socially responsible designers are eager to play a constructive role in helping to design solutions that can address these challenges. While these individual solutions may be important, the most valuable contribution that designers, collectively, make toward a sustainable future is their humility…a humility that is embedded in the design process, which rejects ideals of perfection in favor of a iterative cycles of ongoing tinkering, prototyping, innovation and improvement.

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Engineering historian Henry Petroski shows that design innovation occurs as a result of an ongoing cycle of prototyping: prototype, gather feedback, analyze the feedback, and prototype again. If we understand the humility required to engage constructively in this process, we will be better able to address the global, negative design feedback that we are receiving from our industrial systems.
"Sustainability" may, in certain contexts, be understood as an expanded definition of quality... a definition that adds new design constraints, or design metrics, to the list of constraints already familiar to designers. These new constraints pose a challenge to our ingenuity, but they also present an opportunity for innovation, product differentiation, and competitive advantage. Our "zone of potential innovation" is expanded.