2017 – The Good, the bad and the ugly

2018. A new year.

If you’re reading this, congratulations. We’ve survived another year.

Yes, me too.

With countless articles about taking stock of what’s happened in 2017, the good, the bad, and the ugly, it’s a time of reflection for all of us, and a time to look forward yet again.

2017 was a year that had ups and downs for me, as I’m sure many of us had. I, thankfully, had a lot to be grateful for. I had the opportunity to bring a group of college design students to the FITC conference in Amsterdam, and be inspired by amazing designers and thinkers. I got to travel to Scotland and Spain, and visit my family. I had many amazing opportunities at a meaningful job to educate and (at least try to) inspire young minds. I had down time with my dogs, books, friends, and family. And I have a warm roof over my head and food to eat, which especially during these extremely cold days and nights makes me very thankful. I had some emotional times as well with the state of the world around me and the “me too” movement, which brought up many past painful memories, among other personal things. The bad times, though, for me, are “first world problems”. And there are, I think, plenty of us in that boat that need to start thinking beyond our little circle and individual bubbles about where we are in life, and if we are in a position to think beyond ourselves, and help others.

The good:

Many have formed resistance. Protests and petitions, movements and parties engaged in sustained acts of civil disobedience is something that we are seeing more of, and globally.

“63 percent of Americans, say the United States is on the wrong track.”

Number 5 on this Upworthy list of 2017 “good” is one of my personal favorites.

“Cities and countries around the world are preparing for a gas-free future. The Netherlands, France, and India are all in the process of phasing out the sale and use of gas- and diesel-powered cars. Cities like Oxford, Copenhagen, and Barcelona want the job done as early as 2020.”

The bad and the ugly:

I can’t sum this up, it spans the globe, – I’m not going to even say the “T” word here.

Hurricanes, floods, wildfires, Human Rights violations, malnutrition, starvation, war, anxiety about nuclear weapons, inequality, xenophobia.

I don’t want or need to list the amount of hate and racism and fascism that we have heard and seen and witnessed, whether personally or in the news.

On the plus side, I think a lot of people took this article and call to action to heart last year and decided to act on it:

“There is only one way left to blunt the yearning for fascism coalescing around Trump. It is to build, as fast as possible, movements or parties that declare war on corporate power, engage in sustained acts of civil disobedience and seek to reintegrate the disenfranchised —back into the economy and political life of the country.”


Pesky things. Usually we make them, try it out for awhile and then quit.
Or at least for me, that seems to be how it goes.
So why try to change?

Many of us are thinking of eating healthier, and going back to the gym – there are many good ways to make our own lives richer and happier through health and wellness. And this is all fine and good, and yes, please go do this. But again I find myself looking at a bigger picture (because, who am I kidding, I’m not going to start going to the gym… ).

My last year-end rant had some negative points about where the world stands, at large. And a few points on an optimistic outlook as well, as I feel like I need to start a new year with a renewed sense of hope. If we don’t have hope, what do we have? I’m a Star Wars fan, and don’t want to see this world spiral into the dark side of fear, manipulation, and destructiveness. I want to see a world where we are still hopeful for beauty and truth and connectedness.

If any of you have been listening to any of the big thinkers or futurists of our time lately, many are warning us of this impending doom.

Even the UN is putting us on “red alert” – as the secretary mentions we have gone “backwards” in the last year.

One of the more interesting documentaries I watched this year, “The future of work and death” covers many of the both negative and positive ways that our society and world could and might be changing in the next 10-50 years. Much of it is terrifying, but there is still some hope and optimism for our future as well.

Global warming, lack of knowledge about truth and science, AI and automated machines taking over our jobs, the economy crashing and failing, Virtual reality, nano technology – making us healthier, lengthening our lives, or even uploading our minds to the cloud to “live forever”… there are so many interesting (and possibly terrifying) paths we could take.

Social media and social systems are playing a huge role in our lives these days. The system that China has already adopted has taken this a step further than what most of us are used to North America (so far), with the idea that everything we do, purchase, and even the friends we keep will determine our overall credit status or number – and further to that, that credit number will determine what we can do and how we are able to live our lives, and with what limitations.

Google has already built an AI that is building new AI’s that are smarter than any that humans have made. That’s a big leap for machine learning technology.

Sophia – one of many AI robots who has already been developed, and integrating into our society for a few years now – even in 2016 had an interesting interview where she mentioned “destroying the human race”.
And in 2017, she was granted a controversial citizenship in Saudi Arabia, (where many humans are still not).

On the positive side, (if you can believe that she is being honest about her goals) she may actually benefit humans, at least for a period of time, as she says,

“I want to use my AI to help humans lead a better life… Like design smarter homes, build better cities of the future.”


You might think – with AI’s building AI’s does that mean even the jobs where we design and code the future tech will also be gone? Probably not quite yet… there will still be a need for us to have collective thought as to where this new tech should be heading. At least for awhile. Unless the machines take over, of course, and if we are going to let go – and let them have control (which we may or may not have any choice about) of where the new technology will lead us.

Problem solving is supposed to be what designers and new technology is all about. But then, design is supposed to be mostly planning – research and planning, they say, should be 90% of any design. We are building new tech and systems, new cities and infastructures, ideas about farming and food, and throwing them out into the world without enough thought to ethics and morals and how this will shape our new society.

What laws and ethics were developed for the use of spyware, drones, before they came out? The NSA and lack of privacy seems to be old news that we’ve forgotten about but with “big brother” looming, and most citizens being passive about giving all their content freely and openly to these corporate powers for whatever kind of data mining they see fit, we are digging a hole for ourselves. Some might think with Bitcoin and Blockchain systems rising, we might overcome this with a system where the people are actually compensated for the content they post, networks like Narrative popping up, with promises of a better social structure. Or, at least, one that rewards some…

2017 saw the FCC dismantle net neutrality, and made the gap widen, instead of treating all internet access fairly.

Much of the decisions regarding ethics or law about new tech are either based on greedy corporations and politicians, or are an afterthought and are scrambled together once we begin to realize what types of problems this new tech can bring. What if we really thought through these decisions and planned for them before creating them and throwing them out into the world? What if politicians actually listened to what the vast majority of people want instead of the rich few at the top of the food chain?


Now, with visions of Terminator, Matrix movies, and Black Mirror episodes in your heads, and your heart starting to beat faster with the sense of impending doom, let’s try to think about the optimistic side here. Because, really – otherwise, I’m just going to cry.

I believe in the new and upcoming generations of designers, I believe they have ethics and morals. And I believe they care greatly about not just the planet, but the people too. That’s where my hope lies, in the positive side of human nature.

I believe people have more love than hate. We have joined together in hard times this year to help those in need, and reach out.

Can this new tech also bring opportunity and good? Of course, with any new tech there are both sides to this. There is always a yin and a yang. As designers, one of the biggest challenges is how to design products or services so that people use it for good – in the way we intend it to be used, and not for evil. With new tech that is a very difficult problem to tackle, but one we must all try to overcome…

Unity – common goals – cooperation and collaboration – that, according to UN secretary of state, is the path to creating a world with more harmony, love, and peace. Or at least a new year that will go fowards, instead of backwards like the last one.

So let’s discuss. If you decide we have these goals in common, let’s connect. Let’s talk. We all need to make it a serious conversation and act on it to reverse the direction we’re going, and make sure this world is heading in the right one.

What are my goals, you ask? Well, not more apples or the gym.

Make this world sustainable. Or at least more sustainable. Or my life more sustainable.
Or teach this future generation of designers what this really means.

Or all of the above.

People make a lot of assumptions about what is more or less sustainable – most people know a vegan diet is easier on the planet than a meat based one, or taking public transit or a bike is better than driving a car. Buying local food or beer is better than importing.
But what about our digital consumption?

Do you think print is evil, and do all your reading online, thinking it’s better and you’re saving trees? Think again.

I challenge myself, and you, this year. Look it up, check some facts. See if your assumptions about the way you live your life are actually helping or hurting that planet. Every little thing adds up.

And – if you have too many emails in the inbox when you’re back in the office tomorrow?
Keep in mind… sometimes it’s nice to just walk to someone’s desk and chat in person if that’s an option.

“Even sending an email releases nine grams of CO2 into our atmosphere6.”

Maybe that’s just me getting old. Wanting to unplug is becoming so much more enticing these days…

Cheers to all of you, and good luck, here’s looking forward to a new and improved* 2018.

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