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Design – The Endless Frontier

Johan Jessen
August 1st, 2020 · 2 min read

Design – The Endless Frontier

2020 is one for the history books. I wouldn’t be surprised if “Unprecedented” will be the word of the year. In these turbulent times it’s hard to keep your thinking clear and your outlook optimistic.

To sharpen my own mind and offer perspectives on our collective future, I’ve decided to start a series of essays and host a podcast. I’ll be exploring the role of design in advanced technology. I will try to answer the impossible question of “How do we design the future?” My aim is to challenge the status quo, inspire creation and invention, and hopefully promote clearer thinking.

I’m calling this project Design – The Endless Frontier. It’s an ode to the report Science – The Endless Frontier written by Vannevar Bush to President Rosevelt in 1945. Vannevar Bush argued that the US needed a government-sponsored science and engineering center to accelerate the US in the post-WW2 era. The report made ripples far and wide. It helped establish the National Science Foundation in 1950. It increased the government research and development funding by 10x between the 1940s and the 1960s. It even ushered in the golden era of science fiction and a new hope for the future.

Today, I believe, design is as important as science and engineering have always been. Yet, something important is missing. Our popular understanding of design is too narrow. We lack a strong understanding of how design and technology shape our lives. Our cities, transportation, communication, defence, healthcare, media, governments, economies, and even biology are all designed. We shape our tools, and our tools shape us. Simply put, design is so deeply ingrained into every corner of every thing that most of us are blind to it.

“We are as gods and have to get good at it.”

Steward Brand famously said, We are as gods and might as well get good at it. He’s right. We’re designing everything around us - and might as well get good at it. This should excite us. How do we design the tools that make us who we are?

To guide these essays, I’ll be reflecting on my nearly 10 years in Silicon Valley as a designer working on frontier technologies like robotics, computational biology, AI, aerospace, cyber security, online credibility, and autonomous vehicles. I’ll interview pioneers working on the bleeding edge of research and technology on the podcast. My goal is to expand our understanding and hopefully inspire us to design our best future.

This is an experiment. I hope it goes well. But like all inventions there will be mistakes. Reach out if you have comments or ideas. Thinking clearly is one of the hardest things we can do.

Welcome to Design – The Endless Frontier.

SpaceX rocket launch
SpaceX rocket launch from Cape Canaveral. Title image by Nicolagypsicola.

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The limits of logic

Designers must imagine the possible to escape the limits of logic.

September 11th, 2020 · 8 min read

The mindset of solving really hard problems

How do we solve the really hard problems? We start by changing our minds.

August 6th, 2020 · 7 min read
© 2020 Johan Jessen
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