I had a recent experience that’s left a funny taste in my mouth. I did an on-site study for a design class I’m taking. The assignment was to test a design theory by directly observing a design firm. I got permission to do my small study at a large firm in my locality.

I thought the somewhat unexpected results of the study would be of use to the organization I studied and of interest to the design field at large, since they involved a topic that is much discussed in current literature. Although the results presented an opportunity for learning and a great jumping off place for further research and discovery, I was asked not to reveal the results – not even to the firm’s own employees. My findings were, apparently, too close to a topic that was controversial within the firm, for reasons I don’t know and didn’t discover in the survey.

While I can respect that organization’s desire to avoid stirring up a controversial issue, the whole notion of suppressing information makes me uneasy. It always has. I used to be a litigator, but I hated the way everyone kept secrets just so their side could win – I believed in figuring out the truth. I used to have a marriage, but my husband kept himself secret – I believed in communication and working things out. I now have a notion that design, based on collaboration and sharing information, can make the world a better place – I don’t want this to become another “used to.”

The Summer 2007 issue of Perspective, the International Interior Design Association’s magazine, calls itself the “Power of Design issue.” Pamela Light, IIDA’s president, prefaces the issue with a challenge to designers to use design to “influence human behavior” by embracing the idea that “design has the power to change the world.” I believe this is possible, but it can only happen if information is shared and learning opportunities are embraced. Secrecy cannot be part of the equation.

I can’t tell at this point if my experience with this study was just a bit of insignificant political wrangling or if it’s an indication that the design field, like many, is just another field where politics trumps the truth. Is the notion that design can make a difference just another pipe dream, like justice and trust? I truly hope not, but this little taste of secrecy has made me wonder.

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