In the contemporary capitalist landscape, designers play one of the most essential role in shaping the material conditions and the symbolic world we collectively inhabit. However, as creative agents operating within this economic context, designers must confront the often-unacknowledged ways in which capitalism can restrain, limit, and constrain their work.
Neurocapitalist Design refers to design practices that are unconsciously influenced by the cognitive norms and biases of capitalism. This includes a preference for singular solutions, quick action over thoughtful observation, extroverted behaviors, and norms that privilege typical neurological functioning. Such design practices often restrict creativity, marginalize diverse cognitive styles, and limit the ability to envision transformative solutions that challenge the status quo of capitalist systems.
The sadly and often unacknowledged reality is that without intentional methodological and deontological frameworks in place, designers will often inadvertently reproduce and perpetuate the underlying assumptions and biases of the dominant capitalist system, thus reinforcing rather than challenging the status quo.
Because Capitalism, as a pervasive social and economic system, has a profound influence on the collective imagination, it narrows the realm of possibilities and promotes a belief in the inevitability of the capitalist order. This constraining effect on the imagination can manifest in design practices, as designers are often socialized within a cultural milieu that upholds capitalist ideologies. Consequently, the values, aesthetics, and problem-solving approaches that emerge in design work may be unconsciously informed by and aligned with capitalist imperatives, such as commodification, individualism, and short-termism.
In order to oppose a « rapport de force » with capitalist values and actively challenge the dominant paradigm, designers must cultivate a critical and political consciousness that guides their design practice.
This requires engaging in deep critical reflection, fostering self-awareness of the ways in which capitalist values have shaped their design practices, and actively dismantling these influences.
- The preference for convergent thinking: Capitalist systems tend to value and reward convergent thinking, which focuses on finding singular, optimal solutions to problems. This emphasis may marginalize alternative ways of thinking and problem-solving, limiting the potential for creativity and innovation.
- The prioritization of action over divergent thinking and observation: Capitalism often favors action-oriented approaches and quick decision-making, which can undermine the importance of divergent thinking, characterized by generating multiple ideas and exploring various possibilities. By devaluing divergent thinking, capitalism may inadvertently stifle innovation and perpetuate narrow,surface-level and short-term perspectives.
- The dominance of extroverts: Capitalist societies often place a premium on extroverted traits, such as assertiveness, competitiveness, and social prowess. This bias can create an environment where introverts, who may possess valuable qualities like introspection, empathy, and deep listening, are overlooked or undervalued.
- The prevalence of neuronormativity: Capitalist systems tend to uphold neuronormative standards, which privilege individuals with typical neurological functioning and marginalize those with neurodivergent cognitive styles, such as individuals with autism, ADHD, or dyslexia. This bias reinforces exclusionary practices and prevents the recognition of the unique strengths and insights that neurodiverse individuals can offer.
- The constraining effect of capitalism on collective imagination: Capitalist systems can limit the scope of collective imagination by promoting a pervasive belief that there are no viable alternatives to the existing economic model. This constraining effect, often referred to as “capitalist realism,” can hinder the development of transformative social and economic models and discourage imaginative thinking in envisioning alternative, more equitable, and sustainable futures.
For designers aiming to effect positive change, understanding the profound influence of capitalism on design practices is a crucial necessity. Capitalism, with its values and preferences, is often internalized and subtly shapes our perceptions and actions, including the realm of design. This internalization can blind us to the deep-seated, structural realities underpinning societal problems, directing our focus instead towards surface-level symptoms.
Lenses into Neurocapitalist Design
- The Cognitive Straightjacket: Designers operating within the cognitive norms and biases of capitalism can be metaphorically constrained by a straightjacket. This straightjacket limits their ability to explore alternative perspectives, think divergently, and challenge the status quo, hindering their potential for transformative design.
- Capitalism as Apartheid of the Mind: Capitalism’s influence on design is akin to the apartheid regime, which enforced racial segregation and systemic oppression. In this metaphor, capitalism is the apartheid of the mind, dividing and marginalizing alternative perspectives, restricting the freedom to imagine and design beyond the constraints of profit-driven systems.
- The Invisible Hand of Capitalist Ideology: Capitalist ideology acts as an invisible hand shaping design practices. This metaphor references Adam Smith’s concept of the invisible hand in economics, illustrating how capitalist values and preferences subtly guide designers’ decisions, often without conscious awareness, reinforcing the dominant system.