John F. Kennedy once said, “When written in Chinese, the word crisis is composed of two characters. One represents danger and the other represents opportunity.”
Crisis as opportunity is a red thread that ran through a presentation designer Jerome Caruso gave to faculty and design students at a national conference at Northwestern University in April of this year. The theme for the conference was the role of design in a disruptive economy. It’s a timely topic in an era of new frugality, environmental consciousness, and an emphasis on getting more value from material things.
Born in Chicago and raised in Oak Park, Illinois, Caruso attended the University of Illinois, refined his design philosophy in Europe, studied at the University of Copenhagen, worked at the Bernadotte and Bjorn design studio in the Danish capitol, and founded Jerome Caruso Design Studio in Brussels. Eventually, he built his current studio in Lake Forest, Illinois, where he continues to design and innovate on his own.
Caruso’s design philosophy is not only about innovation in the traditional sense of the word, i.e., “new” or “different.” Innovation for Caruso also means working toward something better than what we already have—emotionally, physically, functionally. “Progressive creativity—significant and responsible change—is bringing a new product into the world with attributes that contribute to progress,” says Caruso. “As designers, we should be thinking how innovation improves our lives. Design needs to benefit people in some material way while being considerate of our planet.”
Caruso suggests designers, especially students going into the field, take a progressive approach to design: Examine the question that’s asked in the assignment or the problem to solve. Then ask: How can I make significant and responsible change in this world?
Caruso is more excited about design than ever before. “There is no doubt we’re in a dramatic period of change right now. Design has become the center point of commercial creativity. It is literally the inspiration for how we perceive progress.”
This change offers great opportunity. “People are going to look at the true value of the products they buy. This takes real talent from a designer.”
Crisis or opportunity. It’s all a matter of perspective.