Why we ought to be (civil) cartographers, not experience” designers

Civil Cartography rejects the notion that designers can be jacks-of-all-trades overnight. Just taking a workshop on design thinking” doesn’t magically impart deep knowledge from other fields. This isn’t about inflating the role of designers alone either. It’s about mapping invisible structures through collaboration.

For too long, designers have focused obsessively on pixels and aesthetics, rather than leveraging their skills to shape policy and impact at scale, often because they don’t have the context or backgrounds to contribute. Civil Cartography begins with designers building practical connections between speculative futures, user experiences, and the intricacies of how our world operates.

It brings experts from across domains together to speculate, theorize, critique, and act in unified ways. Civil Cartography takes abstract concepts out of academic silos and into the streets, shelters, and community centers that comprise our shared spaces. It grounds big ideas in on-the-ground realities.

We aim to push big thinkers to roll up their sleeves, to engage directly with communities, and illuminate the nuances that make society work, especially for those most vulnerable. Civil Cartography also strives to equip policymakers and leaders with deeper literacy of how technologies transform the social fabric, so they can govern digital spaces responsibly.

Technologists alone cannot solve immense societal challenges. We need multi-disciplinary collaboration and a shared grasp of the fault lines underlying injustice. Civil Cartography provides a discourse beyond siloed engineering” or architecture” - one that situates design and technology firmly in their human impacts.

In short, Civil Cartography re-envisions design’s role not as stylizing, but as collaboratively mapping a more just, equitable society. We draw lines that connect, making visible the invisible structures that dictate how we live together. Our shared objective is a future that benefits us all.

Let’s face it - fancy job titles like strategist” or systems thinker” sound impressive but don’t really say much. Sometimes design gets so bogged down in jargon and aesthetics that it loses sight of its real purpose - making a genuine difference in people’s lives.

That’s where Civil Cartography” comes in. It’s all about creating design that connects to the real world - not just pretty screens and interfaces. I’m talking policy, community needs, the very structures we rely on each day. For a Civil Cartographer, design gets out from behind the computer and into the nitty gritty of improving how things work. It’s recognizing that design can reshape the policies, programs, and infrastructure that shape our society, if we let it.

Design conversations are too cloistered. There’s too much stuff hidden in journals that can be helpful, but that no one sees. Civil Cartography means jumping into the muddy trenches where real life happens. Engaging directly with communities, seeing what they need, designing based on what works for them rather than abstract theories.

With tech and physical life meshing more than ever, we also have to guide policymakers on how it’s transforming society down to its roots. Translate complex tech speak so they can make informed decisions. We’re the ones who get to help upgrade the policies that govern digital space and real space alike. This goes beyond slapping labels like engineer” or architect” on designers. It’s about being Civil Cartographers” who understand the whole interconnected landscape and our role in charting a better course. Modern problems require a fresh perspective.

In short, Civil Cartography reimagines whatever human-centered design” role in the world used to be. It’s about using our skills to map out a future that’s imagines something tangible. We all draw lines - Civil Cartographers make sure they lead somewhere that benefits us all.

November 3, 2023