Images: Alexia Barlier
Edward is CEO and founder of a tech company based both in Paris and LA. His company Stample offers a platform which enables individuals and companies to build their own personalized search engines based on sources of information chosen by the user. Edward speaks of the role of design as an infinitely powerful tool for optimization which in the 21st century has the potential to contribute to the elimination of waste.
Nearly 15 years ago, while studying economics and environmental studies in college, I was bothered by a strange fact: when we measure value added, we consider the price at which a product or service sells minus the cost of all resources necessary to create and deliver it. However, we fundamentally neglect the fact that there are two really different types of such resources: those that are limited in quantities, and those that aren't. When we use renewable or limitless resources, we are just spending the interest on our planet's endowment. Otherwise, we’re burning our initial capital, which is a dangerous road to wander on.
There are instances where no nonrenewable resources are needed to create value, and the largest one of these is design. A designer can be presented with a design challenge, and without the use of extra resources, improve the design of the product or process. We must teach our politicians and populations the incredible potential of design: we can accomplish more using less resources by turning ideas into improved products and/or processes.
"Designers are in the heart of this revolution"
Feedback, the world's most important word
Our greatest achievement as a species is our interdependency. As Clay Shirky, internet scholar, puts it, "groups are good", and we achieve far better results together than individually. However, when designing for groups, we have to consider the opinions of others. Designers work within reality, and in reality there is always a context: available technologies, people's desires, their behaviours. In order to invent better systems, a designer has to work with a vast array of constraints and opportunities. The first step is to identify these constraints and opportunities, a process some practitioners call sensing. In our fast-changing world, this process is becoming more and more essential. Companies that are great at detecting user needs and incorporating feedback can design ever-improving services that grow at an extremely high speed, often overshadowing their competition along the way. Designers are at the heart of this revolution.
Social media vs. knowledge curation
Trying to understand the world in which we live is not a small task, but it is one that each of us undertakes every day. In a fast-paced world, this only gets harder. Many of us rely on social media as a primary source of information. However, as eloquently explained by blogger Mark Manson, social media is attention-driven and "in the attention economy, people are rewarded for extremism" because "moderation and reason is something that becomes too arduous and boring to stand".
A few years ago, I realized that the Internet, despite giving us - nearly - free access to - nearly - all the world's knowledge, was entirely failing us as a personal development tool, specifically for the reasons stated above. I felt it was turning into an information blockbuster factory, keeping us constantly hooked and, I would argue, in a state of permanent confusion. This realisation is what led me to start Stample, the knowledge curation platform my team and I have been building for the last few years. The vision is simple:
Since we all spend so much time scanning the Internet for properly researched, simple yet relevant content, why don't we mutualize our efforts?
Some people do this through social media, but their posts often get lost in an ever-increasing flow of intellectual junk food, and because of the network's attention-driven algorithms, deeper, meaningful posts rarely surfaces in people’s timelines. We decided to re-imagine the library as a place where people can collaboratively curate collections of intelligent content, decide precisely how these these collections are to be shared or published, and slowly but surely build their own highly qualified search engine. Stample is a place for the content you - and the people you trust - want to keep, reference, and live with.
Inventing on principle
This expression is the title of an incredible lecture by UX designer Brett Victor. His talk is an invitation to focus on first principles, and test our behavior and ideas against them, as a sailor to his/her compass. The issue we have with the Internet today is that it is almost entirely built around advertising. Every social interface is designed to make us somewhat addicted, so we will spend more time looking at ads. Advertising is not a bad thing, but as a driver for design, it creates a dangerous bias in the way that services operate. It generates a culture of digital addiction, which undermines the vast potential of the Internet as a personal and professional development tool. I don’t think we should have to use ad blockers to have a decent online experience. Rather, ads should be something we opt into, when we want to discover new products and services. We can achieve amazing results by replacing addiction with trust as a first principle in the way we run our online services. When people feel respected, they are far more likely to act respectfully towards others. By using the limitless resource of design and fixing the design of the Internet, we can help people thrive, accelerate innovation, and improve our lives, at zero cost to our natural environment.