An important and often overlooked function of design is to inform people about their environment and help them understand it. Frequently, for example, the means of technology are hidden behind false building shells, across town in ‘someone else’s back yard’, or in our own utility rooms and basements. Water and food flow in and out of the house and community with little knowledge of how it got there or where it is going. People have lost touch with how technology supports us and how it, in turn, is interconnected with the natural world.
Much of the problem with contemporary design as an informative and educational tool is that it deals more with image than with substance. In this it is reflective of patterns of marketing, advertising, consumption, entertainment and political discourse. It tends toward homogenization across broad geographical and cultural regions. The end result of such trends is to have a singular global economy and culture attuned to standardized mass produced design elements. Form, and much that we see around us bears this out, reflects simplification and loss of diversity. Counter to the push toward globalization is the resistance of people who feel a social and spiritual need for a sense of place and expression of regional, community and personal identity. Designs that grow from consideration of natural systems and forces have the ability to reflect the place and the individual.
People have lost touch with how technology works but only because it is becoming more and more complex I believe. However, there are examples where this isn’t always true. Look at RSS for example. It is very simple technology to use and you can see its inner workings if you so choose to do so. When you have such an easy technology to use, you can then easily start building things with it, assuming you change your thinking to be perceptive to these ideas. My "connected communities" approach is one such idea that can be easily accomplished using the simple technology of RSS.
Now when I read the words in the second paragraph that say contemporary design deals "more with image than with substance" I had to laugh again at the truth to those words. Real design is not about how pretty something looks, it is more about the proper placement of those elements upon the site so that the entire experience of using the site becomes an effortless and appealing one as everything just seems to flow and make sense to the user.
BTW I’m seeing more and more designer truly designing amazing sites that aren’t "homogenized" but have their own local feeling, yet they still exist quite well in relation to the other sites that neighbor them within their "community".