The following is a thought I had a few months ago.
DNA is seen as the defining point that life began. It was the result of an increasing complex environment, creating the right conditions for it to evolve. Contrary to some belief, it was produced by a chain of events. DNA actually had a precursor called RNA. RNA is still a part of the process of cell replication today, but was formed prior to DNA and contributed to its existence.
That made me consider something I’ve always felt subconsciously: that nothing simply sparks into existence.
(This concept also applies to our universe as a whole- look at Lawrence Krausses “A Universe from Nothing” where he describes what was before the big bang.)
Evolution of Evolution
The next milestone after DNA was consciousness (like animals, dinosaurs etc), things that could rationalise and make decisions. We have evolved physically to match our increasingly complex environment, developing a symbiotic relationship (it shapes us, and in turn we shape it). Consciousness had a huge impact on evolution, shortening the cycle of learning by moving it from physical to mental.
The next stage was sentience, found only in humans (so far). We are self-aware. Our brains are still very “hard-wired” though. The single driving force of our brains is to seek / produce order, in chaos. We innately strive to enforce a sense of order on a world that is inherently chaotic.
This is a survival thing; the more we control, the more we can predict, the more risks we can avoid. This is why most people find symmetrical, balanced or proportionate things aesthetically pleasing, even in nature. Again, this is a product of our environment. We are reacting to the things around us, making decisions, and acting upon them. One doesn’t exist without the other.
The final environmental condition is metaphysical; things like culture, religion, social structure and belief. Our view of the world shapes our understanding of it. For our collective survival, it is advantageous for us to believe the same things. So ideas spread and replicate (also like DNA).
If you live in a capitalist society you thoughts probably sound like this: “What can I do? What can I aspire to be? How can I progress and thrive? Should I eat that 3rd TimTam?”
Your internal monologue colours your reality. It is the rudder to your boat, your cypher to decrypt the world. The people around you in this society, their internal monologue is saying things in a similar voice. They’re probably not thinking “how can I better serve the Fatherland” right?
This collective mindset creates a climate, or “environment of thought,” that is just as real as the real world.
So now you understand that people have internal motivations and environmental influences, but they are actually just different sides of the same coin. Although there are milestones, they are inevitable when you view things in a broader context.
When the mp3 player came out the ability to play music portably was not a new idea. Trace the idea back and of course you find CD players, Walkmans etc, each one an incremental progression. Technology had also advanced and was relatively ubiquitous: evident by the simultaneous release of multiple mp3 players.
The start, or genesis, of “personal, portable music” was probably when hip, black guys carried around their stereos on their shoulders. Their music reflected their personality, as they swaggered down the street. Everyone knew what they were listening to, and that’s the way they liked it.
Return now to the progression, and you can see it’s been coloured by Capitalism. Valuing individual experience, individual success funnelled development towards this end. Our “personal, portable music device” is just that, personal. There are a thousand other influences I can list, as well as why the ipod reigned supreme, but you get my point.
Nothing simply comes into existence. Everything is a product of the conditions surrounding it. “New Ideas” often connect two seemingly unrelated things, or looking at something familiar with fresh perspective.
The Altruistic Designer
From my perspective it is impossible to be a completely altruistic designer. No one can fully remove themselves from their own context and design entirely for another. Many of the decisions you make on a project are predefined; by the client, by the budget, by the target audience. But they are also predefined by you, prevailing trends, and by the broader context (whether you are aware of it or not).
Being conscious of this will help you be a better designer, help you understand where ideas come from and how to rapidly have new ones.
But just think, before you even start your next project the vast majority of it has already been decided for you.