As young architects, we often get extremely frustrated by the quality of our work, or the quality of our teams.
But this is why it's called practice, right? Our product is not the final outcome, but one in a series of experiments that lead from one thing to another. Sometimes in the pursuit of perfection, we become too attached to each formal outcome, when what our clients and the public demands of us is more about the process. Does the design respond, elegantly, to our requests, or changing political opinions? Does it have the integrity to stand despite various changes? How are you pitching ideas, and what is your quality of attention? To say that architecture is purely technical, or purely showmanship, or a "tool of capitalist exploitation", is to miss the gravity of what we are doing -- we are building something greater than ourselves, and meant to stand up for at least a generation (30 years). It is bound to be scrutinized, criticized, attacked, ignored, and value-engineered.
From my point of view, I see several potential solutions to combat this problem of "bad design", which architects as a profession have not done a good enough job with:
1) Educate the User.
In America, design education is sorely lacking. Yes, indeed, our world is proliferated by Instagram tourist traps, and Pinterest boards, and Etsy artisanal items, and Apple products. Design awareness is at an all-time high, but not design education. We are so very able to choose a beautiful dress, or the best-looking cellphone, and yet when it comes to large scale items (buildings, cars, cities) we don't seem to have the vocabulary, or the courage, to call out bad behavior or poor craftsmanship. Design education should be more accessible, so that when architects and designers and developers do present their work, we are not naturally intimidated by flashy images, and capable of understanding the solution at hand. When software developers create applications, they undergo usability testing, and many many rounds of user interviews. When the application is shipped, there are manuals and readmes that explain and educate the features of the tool. I don't see why the same logic doesn't apply to design.
2) Show Good Leadership.
Architecture is a team sport -- you cannot do it alone. Yet, we have a culture that celebrates ego and brands. Indeed, that has slowly gone away in the past decade, but problems of poor management, in projects and practice, persists. While you justifiably blame this on the cruelties of capital (and insane deadlines, or impossibly leveraged pro forma sheets), I'd like to also attribute this to the dearth of leadership within the field, and in our society. We are trained to design, and yet we are not trained to work with diverse personalities, or to learn how to motivate teams. How can you deliver good design, in a fluent way, without good leadership? Architecture is collaborative, but it is also personal; a poorly managed design process translates directly to a poorly designed building. The proof is always in the pudding -- so learn to be a good leader, not a lone wolf.
3) Understand our Tools.
The first test of a designer is usually a hand drawing - it shows how well the designer wields the drawing tool, and how easily he/she/they communicate ideas. Likewise, just as the world has migrated to computers and digital design, we also have to have a good grasp of our digital tools of the trade. More often than not, poor design comes from the mishandling, or misuse, of modern-day tools - we fail to appreciate the nuances of scale, or we misinterpret a rendering, or a sketch. How can we afford to NOT understand our tools, when our livelihoods depend on it? I believe that if more designers took it upon themselves, to truly comprehend and know their machines and tools, we would have much better cities and built environments down the line.