About the Author

Matthew Wizinsky is an Associate Professor in the Ullman School of Design at the University of Cincinnati; a PhD researcher in Transition Design at Carnegie Mellon University; an Associate Editor for the design journal Visible Language; Principal Designer of the consultancy studio junglecat; and author of Design after Capitalism.

notion image

Professional Bio
Matthew Wizinsky is a designer, educator, researcher, scholar, and lecturer on contemporary design practices and research. He studied graphic design at the University of Cincinnati (BS), the University of Illinois at Chicago (MFA), and the Institute of Visual Communication (FHNW) in Basel, Switzerland, and holds professional certification in strategic Foresight from the University of Houston. Wizinsky has over 20 years of professional design experience, ranging from digital start-ups to international commercial agencies to in-house studios for major cultural institutions. In 2009, he established an independent studio and consultancy in Chicago. He has worked for global commercial clients, including Harley-Davidson, McDonald’s, and Tiffany & Co.; he has co-curated and/or designed exhibitions at the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago Cultural Center, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and Cincinnati Art Museum; and he has contributed to the Venice Architecture Biennale (2018), International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF 2014) in New York, and Exhibit Columbus (2019) in Columbus, IN.
Wizinsky began his academic career at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) with joint appointments in the UIC School of Design (teaching) and the UIC Innovation Center (research). From the start, his academic work has operated at the intersection of design education and interdisciplinary, practice-based research. At UIC, Wizinsky was Founding Director of the Responsive Media Lab at the UIC Innovation Center. In 2015, Wizinsky joined the faculty of the Ullman School of Design at the University of Cincinnati, where he teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in design research methods, communication design, user-experience design, strategic foresight, generative design, speculative design, and design history. He has also lead curricular development in practice-based Foresight research, Speculative Design, interaction design with Augmented Reality, and Honors Courses in transdisciplinary research on urban and digital futures.
Wizinsky’s interdisciplinary collaborations have included work with researchers in the Social Sciences, Digital Humanities, Architecture, and Public Health. His research, scholarship, and creative works have been awarded, exhibited, published, and presented internationally. Wizinsky has participated in research and practice-based projects supported by approximately US$1.5 million in grants, commissions, and sponsored projects and studios, including support from the Mellon Foundation, National Endowment for the Humanities, Humanities Without Walls, MAC Cosmetics AIDS Fund, People’s Liberty, and others. Wizinsky is an Associate Editor for Visible Language, the oldest peer-reviewed academic journal for design, in publication since 1967.
Why did you write this book?
1. Capitalism requires constant growth. We are now witnessing both the immediate and long-term destruction of global warming at every level of human and nonhuman earthly existence. The infinite growth required by capitalism is at odds with the finite resources of our planet, which is literally burning up.
2. Digital goods and services as well as the rapid automation of production, distribution, and design of all kinds of material “things” may simply be incompatible with market mechanisms alone. Capitalism simply may not be suited to an economy that is dematerialized, postindustrial, and knowledge-based.
Addressing both of these points, this book critically assesses design practices operating in an evolving digital information and service economy to propose a transformation that blends design entrepreneurship with social empowerment.
OK, but who are you?
I am a designer. I have owned and do own a design studio. So I look at this squarely from the perspective knowing what it means to make a living, pay the rent, and pay the bills by doing design work. I don't come at the project with a particular existing social ideology. I don't consider myself a Marxist, socialist, or communist—at least I don’t identify with any particular group inside those terms. I do believe in design’s capacity to implement change. I do know first-hand and intimately the value of doing design within and for others, meaning actually working very closely with people to affect their everyday lives. Yet, I often find myself disappointed in how narrowly I see design’s change-making capacity being applied. In my own thinking and work, in every attempt to try to imagine design truly remaking the world into something more egalitarian, more democratic, or more sustainable, I just kept running into the same wall. That wall is capitalism.
I believe in design’s capacity to implement change.
I'm also a design educator. Young people I work with have a great deal of anxiety about the world that they are living in, the world that they're participating in creating, and what their work as designers might do to contribute positively or negatively to that. They’re concerned about the ecological crises we're experiencing: producing mountains of electronic waste in far-flung areas of the world as well as in our own neighborhoods, the way design is involved in global supply chains and global labor chains that have people working in sweatshops to create the objects and garments we’re designing from our own comfortable lives, the way that our material sourcing and the sort of decisions we make are connected to global conflicts, refugees, migration, etc. Even looking at it from a privileged point of view inside the United States in 2021, where I'm sitting, there’s concern about our contemporary culture being loaded with crises of anxiety, depression, mental health issues, as well as a certain kind of paralysis around what we might do about technology, social inequity, and climate change. In my students, I hear an almost desperate resignation: What can we do?
In some ways, this is an attempt to begin pointing in a new direction. To address these challenges head-on, we need to understand that the kinds of modern design that I'm describing were born into industrial capitalism. They were born into a very specific historical political economy. We also have to notice that that particular paradigm has totally changed. And it has been changed for some time now. Over the last couple of decades, designers have been finding roles in new fields and new domains, taking on broader and greater responsibilities in large organizations. Which I think is really fantastic. But I don't know that we have kept up so well as a discipline with a clear understanding—or purpose—for what we are doing socially, politically, culturally, and ecologically. I just can't help but wonder: Can't design do better?
But... what can we do?
I’m also a citizen attempting to live in a democratic 21st century.
Design is struggling to materialize preferable states (to cite Herbert Simon). I think design is struggling to materialize preferable states while also confronting new ethical and ecological challenges. These challenges are tied in some combination to climate change, technological change, and social inequities. So my proposal is that we look really deeply at how design is practiced under the logics and structures of capitalism so that we can challenge those logics. challenge those structures, shift mindsets, and even shift the discipline to come up with something better.
My proposal is that we shift design to become something better.
Who did you write this book for?
I wrote this book for all the incredible design students I've had the pleasure to teach and those I have not yet met .
I wrote this book for all the amazing designers I've worked with, past & present, particularly those who deeply believe that design can improve the world.
I wrote this book for anyone who is concerned about the ways capitalism has helped to set a trajectory for contemporary society that is undesirable and may be looking for pathways toward something better.
I wrote this book to inform and influence designers, design students, as well as professionals and scholars in various fields that interface with design to consider the “institutional” nature of design practices and how they might be more equitably and sustainably modeled through a new disciplinary model. Design itself is synonymous with change. It is about materializing preferable states of the world and, in doing so, establishing preferable ways of being in that world. This book is a plea for designers to take seriously their own claims about design’s potential to incite broad and meaningful social change.
My hope is that it will help designers (and anyone who thinks about design) to better think what they are doing.
What do you hope this book will do?
I am attempting to trace a path out of some of the current challenges facing design (and society). Admittedly, the idea of transforming design into an "after capitalism" version of itself is a bold proposal. Some may find it unrealistic or disagree with my perspective altogether (although, my critiques are informed by the research and scholarship of many others outside of design). That's all fine and well.
Regardless, my hope is that the ideas shared in this book will empower designers to rethink and transcend some of the current detrimental social and economic models of design practice. I hope the book will offer some language, ideas, and perspectives that encourage designers and design students to better "think" how design interacts with economic and political structures beyond "business as usual."
Your labor in designing and strategically thinking through the impacts of designing is your power. I hope the book gives the historical precedent, a rationale, and the practical guidelines to work collectively in determining the ways that design itself might come into a “preferred state”—starting now and working into the future. Remember: The future doesn't exist; it's being invented right now.

👉 Home