I am not normally a Boing Boing reader, but the video they posted yesterday of Matt Webb’s presentation from the Copenhagen Reboot conference really blew my mind. Matt discusses the role of the designer in the 21st century, which quite obviously is changing at such a rapid pace right now that any insight is extremely valuable. In the presentation (after the jump) Matt brings up the concept of the “macroscope” which I feel is the fundamental piece of knowledge gained from his presentation, and subsequently the subject of this article.
What is a Macroscope?
If scientists use microscopes to see the small pieces of a larger whole, designers use their “macroscopes” to see “the whole” of a large mass of smaller actions. Designers use this tool to determine what the sum of the changes made to all those smaller pieces would have as a whole.
Additionally, he states that since we are able to see the larger whole of the issue, we are able to approach it from whole new ways of thinking that someone only looking at the smaller issue will never consider. His example is a historical one about the idea of growing produce in space, which takes place about 11:20 into the video. In it, a politician raises the point that for all we know about space a plant may choose to grow in a completely different way than it might on earth because of the difference in environment.
The Value this Concept Brings
The immediate parallel I drew after hearing Matt talk about this concept was our current economic situation. It seems like every time there is a dip in our economy it is the designers who are saying it is time to for clients to increase their spending, and do more marketing. And for the most part, it appears that the large majority of clients do not take this advice.
I originally thought this might be because of fear on the behalf of the design firm losing operational revenue, which is probably still true in most cases, but what if it is because we are seeing the same situation from different perspectives. The clients who are so close to the problem are completely unaware of the opportunities that are available to them because of the sheer magnitude of the problem as they see it. Designers on the other hand, looking at the problem from high above with their macroscopes see the opportunities lying outside of what is in direct view of the client.
When you start to look at the situation from the conceptual vantage point of the macroscope you start to see why there is such a disconnect between the designer and client (placing fear aside for a moment).
Other Similar Scenarios
But spending and recessions aren’t the only area where this disconnect exists, consider design revisions and you begin to see what I mean as well. Often times when clients suggest revisions to a project they do not understand how it will affect the entire piece. What may seem like a simple change to the size of a headline would throw off the typographic scale requiring adjustment to all subsequent type. Clients may not understand this, because they do not see the problem from the same perspective. When you are able to understand the differences in perspective, it completely makes sense why it is increasingly important to discuss and explain design decisions to clients, aside from all the normal reasons.
Matt brings up some other great examples in this presentation and I highly suggest that you give it a watch. Also, please feel free to share some similar examples of the macroscope in the comments below.