Water ripples - Design can be a force for good blog post

Design Can Be a Force for Good

June 14, 2022

We are surrounded by design. Everything that is not naturally occurring in the world was designed by humans, for humans. While “business as usual” has traditionally included short-term thinking, corporate greed, and mass consumption, it doesn’t have to be that way. Design can be a force for good.

“Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” – Steve Jobs

I think of design as a BIG word. Design is about making choices that bring us closer to a better world – one that is sustainable, inclusive, safe, and just. Little by little, like ripples expanding across the water, we can solve difficult problems by design.

Design makes it – and us – smarter

Technology, when designed well, can make our lives easier. After all, most of us now carry a camera, address book, map, radio, calculator, credit card, and flashlight in a single pocket-sized device.

Design thinking is a human-centered approach to solving problems that focuses on iterative learning, and engaging the people who will benefit most from any recommended solutions. As artificial intelligence automates more manual and routine tasks, humans will need to take on more complex and cognitively challenging work. This makes it increasingly important that we grow smarter by working better together.

Design makes it accessible

Diversity, equity, and inclusion task forces are common these days, borne of a growing awareness that everyone isn’t just like us. Without intentional interventions, biases and assumptions can diminish opportunity for some while benefiting others.

Website usability broadly describes the ease of using and interacting with a website. Relevant content and intuitive navigation are always important, but so is considering your audience’s life experiences – from level of education, to language, to impairment.

Design must lead the way – as shown in this accessibility dashboard on the Parks Project website.

Parks Project website - Accessibility dashboard

Design makes it sustainable

While efforts in our nation’s capital to curb climate change have been slow to nonexistent (to backward), personal initiatives to cut waste, consume less energy, and shop locally reveal an interest in ensuring that our planet is sustainable for generations.

Lo-TEK: Design by Radical Indeginism book coverIt has been said that 80% of a product’s environmental impact is determined during the design phase. As designers, we have the responsibility to discourage waste, and create environmentally-sustainable products and services. As consumers, we must demand – and support with our wallets – solutions that recognize our impact on the world around us.

One book that shows how design can help us build a better world is Lo-TEK: Design by Radical Indigenism, by Julia Watson. The book explores ways of living in harmony with nature that can guide our response to the climate crisis.

Design makes it powerful

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial honors Americans who sacrificed their lives in the Vietnam War. The names of more than 58,000 men and women are inscribed on its polished granite walls.

Maya Lin’s design, chosen out of more than 1,400 submissions, was immediately recognizable, but also controversial. Instead of something heroic or celebratory, two stark black walls begin below ground level, then grow in height until they meet like a “wound that is closed and healing.”

Whether you have visited the National Mall, a traveling exhibit, or only seen photographs, the memorial is a sobering reflection on the costs of war. It is also a reminder that a designer’s job is to engage an audience, and that the most powerful and memorable designs elicit an emotional response.

Vitenam Veterans Memorial, Washington, DC

Design makes it profitable

To designers, the idea that “design is good” is sort of a self-evident truth, but design is also demonstrably good for business.

What is design worth? According to a report from McKinsey & Company, the best design performers increased their revenues and shareholder returns at nearly twice the rate of industry counterparts. The conclusion – the potential for design-driven growth is enormous.

Design can be a force for good as people seek to change capitalism as well. Public Benefit Corporations are designed to do more than make a profit. For certification, they must also meet high standards for social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.

Design can do more

I believe design can be a force for good. It can help identify opportunities, raise awareness, inspire donors, and move people to action. It can improve products, re-imagine services, and create memorable experiences.

At its best, design is a process to solve problems and create successful outcomes. And our best relationships are with clients that recognize the role of design in making the world a better place.

Our project planning toolkit can help make you a force for good.

Dan Woychick is a problem solver, creative collaborator, and owner of Woychick Design. He helps purpose-driven organizations raise awareness, inspire donors, and move people to action. Connect here: Instagram | LinkedIn | Twitter

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