Are Designers responsible for a lazy society?

Hear me out first before jumping to any conclusions - I understand that this does not apply to ALL design positions…so Ill try to keep my thoughts short and to the point.

I did some thinking over the weekend and asked myself the question “Are designers the cause of the laziness in society?” - Initially my answer was “No” but I’ve started to realize its not a simple “Yes” or “No” answer.

Rarely is a product designed to require more skill and effort than its predecessor. Our job (at least in the consumer world) is to improve the interaction and increase the ease of use for the user - ultimately making the users job easier (requiring less effort & skill).

Looking at society today, the “skilled” labor force is decreasing rapidly with the advancement in technology, materials, processes, and design. Life for the general population has become simplified; requiring less skill, thought, and effort…

Just look around and you’ll quickly see what I’m referring to…

No longer are children playing outside on weekends with friends (developing social skills), riding bikes, building forts, causing mischief - Instead they are inside watching TV, playing video games, talking on cellphones - expecting more and doing less…

So I guess I have two questions:

  • Are we partially responsible for the decline of skilled labor and true craftsman ? (i.e Blacksmiths)

  • Are we designing products to make the lives and jobs easier for the user while ultimately eliminating the skills and effort required to do the task?


Jim: interesting.

I was thinking about the barriers to local manufacturing, similar to your thoughts on craftsman. Although design is probably the least responsible here. We have a global transport infrastructure that has made it cheap to ship even small quantities of product all around the world. That’s probably the biggest obstacle to competitive local manufacturing.

The other element is of course the investment in means of production and the arms race nature of it. Everytime a factory increases their efficiency through automation, all the other factories in that industry must invest too. Eventually this leads to factories with barely any employees. This is an economic force, completely unrelated to design.

As for designing products to make life easier…I think we are guilty as charged. However, add up all the time that is saved through technology and it is offset by new work that we make ourselves. The best example of this is at the office. Have cel phones, teleconferencing, email, etc. allowed any of us to work 2 hours a day? Of course not.

There is the more global issue of less natural exercising in terms of walking around cities. This is an issue so much larger than design, touching on politics, urban planning, architecture, engineering, etc.

I guess to sum up, my answer is no and no.

Hope the answer is No.

I don’t want the human race to become this:

Your still on the side of the good guys don’t worry. However, there are political, social, and structural lags to progress. This is the way its always been and always will be.

Like Mr-914 says the improvements and efficiencies will free us up for more and better honest, productive pursuits, but the problem is when? It simply takes time for society to catch up to innovation.

It’s nice to hear that there are other designers out there that question what they are doing. I’ve had thoughts along these lines before.

For your second question…

That would make for a great series of articles. But my short answer would be that the mindset of the people has changed from 100+ years ago (at least in America). In terms of experiences, it seems that we now value quantity rather than quality. An interesting comparison would be children from 100 years ago to present day children. Now there seems to be an “I-want-it-now” attitude with zero effort, rather than putting in effort and work that results in the desired outcome. Which the ease of using products and technology may have played a part in. Remember waiting for your internet to dial up in the 90’s? Now it’s instant.

Sorry, that’s a little all over the place.

I think no matter what happens with design and technology, there will always be lazy people and there will always be active people. Design will fill the need where there is one.

Think about what you’ve bought recently. Has it all been “lazy” technology? My latest purchases are a music recording device, an ipad, a manual cranking pasta machine and some garden tools. The only one I would say is a lazy device would be the ipad, but I have taken it to job interviews and to my family gatherings to play pictionary on it.

Designers design bikes, sporting equipment, heart rate monitors, dog leashes, water pistols, etc, etc… so my answer would be no. Designers don’t make lazy people, people make lazy lifestyle choices.

There has been much discussion about how cooking and out ability to sustain ourselves with minimal effort has really accelerated human society. I think the same applies for products. As far as I see it, i spend a good proportion of my time making things that are more pleasurable to use. The rest of my time is spent is making the function as enabling as possible. In a way, letting people do more, not less…

Remember, every generation has thought that about the previous. I won’t quote Plato, but you know…

Everything you are talking about here is first and foremost technology, not design.

Again, the answer is technology, not design. Advances in manufacturing technology (and, you could argue, supply and demand market forces) made blacksmithing obsolete. It wasn’t “designed away”.

I struggle to find examples of design which makes you lazy. Again, I fall back on what Donald Norman preaches about the user can do no wrong only the design can, and how things where you design to minimize failure perhaps does make you lazy because there is no need to learn how to make complicated things work anymore… but the flip side is that it hopefully enables you to focus on doing what you really wanted instead (because if it didn’t, the design was flawed).

EDIT: Ok, here’s an example from my life… I used a machine for shaving for a while, and then these multi-blade razors, because I just wanted my mornings to go as quick as possible so I could focus on other things. However, with time, I found my skin became irritated from using these, and also, I wanted to see if I could get a closer cut. The solution I found was to go back to a 50s style safety razor with a single blade. It was more difficult to use (I cut myself more often), and more complex (requiring a special soap and brush), but the shave I got was much better. In other words, before, my focus was on what I was going to do instead of shaving, and now, my focus is the shaving itself.

Now, I was going to say something like “design focuses, but what you chose to focus ON is up to you”, but that felt too close for comfort to “guns don’t kill people, people kill people”…

So, instead (making the previous paragraphs perhaps completely obsolete) I’ve found that every specialized area, be it economics, sciences, technology and now design, all tend to focus in on themselves and ignoring the glue which binds them all: The social aspect. And therein is the answer to your question, in my opinion. Society is allowing being lazy acceptable, so it’s becoming more prominent.

This also all seems to be relating to the current slow design movement, (or I guess slow movement in general). Users are started to backlash from everything being so fast and easy in a technological world, and are moving to appreciate the actual activity (like eobet stated above with shaving). In the end design is really about creating an experience, and it’s not like we can really make a “lazy” experience (or I would hope at least we would never try). We might make an experience that is quick, and efficient but that will never be the optimal for everything.

Basically I think designers will always be creating a plethora of different kinds of experiences because people inherently like variety.
and it will be awesome.

The short answer is “No.”

The long answer is no, and there’s not much less novel or interesting than comfortable, patronizing “elites” wringing their hands over the alleged nasty side-effects of progress on the unwashed ignorant masses, who would really be better off if they didn’t try to rise above their level.

Get back to me on this once AI starts replacing OUR jobs or we invent Star Trek’s replicators, then we might have something to discuss. Maybe. For now, these discussions–which thankfully never lead to anything, or we would have never progressed past the dawn of the Industrial Revolution–are an exercise in preening.

Some very good insight here…Thank you for chiming in.

I completely agree - technology and good design have made our lives/work much more efficient…

I originally mentioned design only being partially responsible. Advancement in technology is obviously the biggest culprit along with an attitude and work ethic shift in society. I feel design (all fields) plays such a large role in the implementation and introduction of technologies to the consumer - How usable and efficient would a cellphone be without user and product design?

I guess it all depends on how you look at my initial thoughts/question -

Do our designs help people do more with less? - or - Do our designs help eliminate the specialty skills and effort required to complete the task at hand?

I suppose they are one in the same and it all depends on how the user ends up putting the product to use. Perhaps “lazy” was the wrong word to use.

How has this attitude change in society shifted the way design is taught in schools and implemented in the professional field?

There is obviously a big shift among consumer goods to quantity > quality… Is this the kind of “good design” society expects?

This post was meant to go online yesterday, but obviously I wasn’t able
to execute the right commands on my I-phone.

As you guys already worked out it is not neccessarily “design” at fault here, but “technology”.

And for every designer (engineer) working on interfaces and tools to make our life easier, there
might be someone working on a new playful and creative “gadget” to enrichen it.
(he or she might be Italian, I’d think…)

What I see critical in this context though, is that we (western society) tend to loose the basic knowledge
as new layers of technology get applied on top. Nobody knows anymore how to work through
the bios of his PC. If it stalls, either send it to repair or by a new one. And this is young technology, that
was learned and unlearned within our generation.

Harvesting food or really cooking a dinner are other realms of withdom that were pressed out of
“common sense” into expert territory.

On the other hand our small toddler girl already grasped how the touch commands on the I-Phone
work and loves to play with it. This is what surrounds her and what stimulates her interest. I’ll
see the day when she knows to use it better than her dad.

And this is also part of the designers job, to stimulate a user to be active and grow. It will make the
experience better and leave the customer more satisfied for a longer time.


There was a TV coverage about the new middle class in China on Sunday. A lot of insight out of those
90 Minutes, as some families from lower to upper middle class were portrait during some weeks.
Those did not have many things in common, but one: All the families dads showed their foremost leisure
acitivities were “watching TV” and “Surfing the Web”.

Both fully passive activities shared with billions of people in western societies. And both powerful
tools to make people feel equal without having equality of knowledge, wealth and possibilities.