Sunday, September 20, 2009

Doing Well Versus Doing Good in Advertising and Design

I don't have the answers but one of the things folks in the media literacy and design education fields need to get their heads around is the tension between teaching students about media and design while not liking what media and design professionals do.

It will be difficult to get students and their parents to take design education and media literacy seriously if the position of teachers is that media and design are bad things that should be avoided or eliminated from our culture. We are caught between the parents' desire for students to do well and our desire to be sure students also do good.

A case in point is an article in Fast Company magazine about the young vice-president of design at Coca-Cola. Look at this guy, at the top of his game, and heading up one of the biggest design efforts in the world, and listen to us telling students that he is a bad man because he promotes drinking an unhealthy beverage. Who do you think is going to win that one?

David Butler (right - wearing a T-shirt with a Coke message in Thai), the company's vice president of global design, masterminded the top-secret development of a revolutionary new machine called Freestyle for dispensing Coke that will soon be sweeping the world.

With 450 brands operating in 200 countries, and 20,000 retailers selling 1.6 billion servings of Coke products per day (18,000 servings per second) there are few bigger jobs in the design world. Butler oversees a team of 50 designers within Coke and works with some 300 agencies worldwide.

Look at Butler, think about how this 40 something man now runs one of the biggest design ventures in the world - and then imagine telling prospective students they shouldn't want to be like him. That is a lose-lose proposition.

According to the article in Fast Company magazine, Peter Senge's book The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization changed the way Butler thought about design. He saw how systems thinking could be applied in a more holistic way. In the past, he says, design had been focused on straightforward problems: Come up with a drinking vessel, say. But now it was being asked to solve multipronged problems: How do we get clean drinking water? "We're moving from linear problems to wicked problems," he says, and the old default solution -- hire a rock-star designer -- no longer works. "The model of a master of design creating that magical object that is going to change the business is an old way of thinking. I can't use it to work on wicked problems. I need to have capability internally."

Can educators continue to make a difference with students and their parents if our position is consistently anti-business, anti-media, anti-advertising and anti-design when our students want to become successful in those very businesses?

Click on the heading above to see the full story about David Butler in Fast Company magazine.

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