According to Lisa Norton, professor of design leadership at Parsons’ School of Design Strategies (SDS), the defining feature of the 21st century is complexity.
She understands that designers must contend with complex considerations including the rise in automation and ecosystem collapse. For this reason, she advocates cultivating ways of being such as “negative capability” — a term coined by poet John Keats that means the pursuit of creativity in the face of persistent uncertainty. “Globally we don’t yet have the collective capacity to comprehend problems of a magnitude like climate change,” she says, “but we can develop negative capability and learn to design from expanded awareness and a collaborative spirit respectful of difference.”
Norton shifted her career from fine art to strategic design early on. She has built a successful consulting practice focused on curriculum and business strategies. Her goal is to help organizations, schools, and individual designers create frameworks and techniques for a more inclusive and adaptive designer ontology — one that is capable of grappling with the challenges of the future.
Norton has developed an educational methodology she calls Design Being. She encourages designers to become aware of how they interact with the world and shape its products, systems, and structures in every sector. “I believe that, through their actions, designers can exert more influence than they know – especially in social and corporate settings where post-cynical metamodern designers and technologists will play crucial roles,” she says.
To explore some of the principles of Design Being within a Parsons context, she aims to establish the Uncertainty Lab, an experimental workshop in which students and faculty investigate emerging dimensions of 21st-century design, practice negative capability, and build trust. “Design Being suggests practices and capacities that designers need to address the future,” explains Norton. “The Uncertainty Lab is a space for building those abilities in our community.”
Above all, Norton urges students and professional designers to make conscious creative decisions and compassionate specifications. She hopes that by bringing a whole-heart and whole-body approach to the design process, a new generation of designers will manage the enormous challenges ahead while creating ever more equitably distributed futures.