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So, the next time you’re sitting down to work on a design project, ask yourself: what am I being asked to do? Do I need to shoot wolves or manage bears?

The wolf approach is about disrupting the order of things and eliminating the presumed source of the problem. This is the kind of thinking that I fear is taking over places like Silicon Valley and becoming the dominant story about how to design businesses, services, and interfaces. There is an off-putting bravado and violence to this approach—almost a will to destroy something old to make way for the new. Behind it all is a refusal to acknowledge the source of the problem as a important character in the ecosystem. (If it weren’t so important, it wouldn’t hold enough influence to create the problem.) So, yes—if you shoot the wolves, the wolves no longer eat the livestock. But you also no longer have wolves. What will come of that?

The bear approach, on the other hand, is about the thankless yeoman’s work of maintenance. Rather than shooting the source of the problem, you become its shepherd. This honors a fews things that are frequently overlooked. First, that the situation is complicated. Second, that things can change. Third, that the designer may not know best—and even if they did, they still do not know everything at the beginning of the process. And fourth, that the bears—or whatever parties are complicit in the problem—have a will of their own. You’re in dialogue with the problem and giving the situation a chance to describe itself.

Frank Chimero

I have long been in love with Chimero’s writing. This latest piece is a speech given to masters students at the School of Visual Arts and is all thoughtful musings on design. It’s long but well worth a read by anyone in the design industry, new or old.

Wolf and bear illustrations via Christian Jackson.

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