This issue of Harvard Design Magazine is about the design of work and the work of design. “No Sweat” challenges designers to speculate on the spaces of work in an accelerated future, and to imagine a world in which a novel ethics of labor can emerge. What scenarios and spaces can we imagine for the next generation of work? How can we anticipate and formulate work environments and experiences that are productive, humane, and ecologically responsible?
From corner office to kitchen sink, from building site to factory floor, from cubicle to car to coffee shop, work shapes our lives and physical world. Whether we produce objects, generate ideas, manage processes, or perform services, work is a hybrid of dedication and alienation, power and oppression. As work spaces morph to integrate machines that mimic, assist, or complement human abilities, the way we perform work, and the way we feel about it, change too.
To work (to put forth effort) and the work (that effort, or the result it generates) are sources of pride and shame, fulfillment and drudgery. As many jobs become obsolete, and as populations are displaced under the pressures of climate change and political turmoil, the boundaries of the workplace are shifting in space and time. Though some claim that a world without work is on the horizon, “labor-saving” innovations are enmeshed with human exploitation, and housework and care work remain at the crux of persistent inequalities.
Paradoxically, the more that work, as we once understood it, appears to be receding, the more omnipresent and ambiguous it becomes. The workplace is everywhere—or is it nowhere?