The unlikely partnership between the designer & the economist

Classical economic theory has always had an established model upon which to frame its ideas and these ideas good or bad have always held primacy because they could be explained through the language of economics. Assessing everything from productivity to GDP, economists have always the imperial tools to measure growth and decline, but insufficient thought has been given to the relevance of these measures and the ensuing chaos caused by their limitation.

A case in point the recent event of Brexit would indicate that despite all the classical evidence that suggested Brexit would be a disaster for the United Kingdom, the majority of voters choose to leave the European Union their criteria for decision making being deemed “irrational”.

The behavioural model that most economic theory is built on is that we are rational being and make 100% rational decisions 100% of the time. Historically when psychologists challenged this, economists said “prove us wrong, but use economic theory to do so” and that was usually the end of the debate. Recently their has been some insightful and entertaining studies in the field of behavioural economics by the likes of Dan Ariely and Steven D Levitt that have widened the gaze of economists and the market as a whole. Both conducting a series of independent and unrelated studies to prove that we are less in control of the decisions we make. Interestingly the process of design plays a key role in influencing these decisions.

As strategic designers its important for us to work our way up the decision making value chain and seek out the genesis of each of the challenges we are faced with. Knowing that decisions and their impact are systemic, it makes logical sense to seek to re-design solutions from their point of origin.

As economic theory begins to open up and fully embrace behavioural science and cognitive economics, it is probable that designers can start to have a greater influence on the world at large. Strategic designers working with macro economic problems at inception, can assist the economist in exploring different economic solutions that take human behaviour, irrationality and sustainability into account.

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