On designing for social good.
A reflection on the moral battle between intention and consequence.
Designers have the power to convey direct or subliminal messages in a beautiful and compelling way, we know that.
There is also no doubt design has the capacity to change social direction and persuade the public towards certain behaviours, tastes and actions. As designers, we must claim the responsibility to produce work which will impact the majority of people in a positive way, of course, understanding and admitting the obstacles that may entail.
But how can ‘design for good’ be defined or measured, when ‘good’ is subject to the agent who is in charge of producing the specific piece of work? How can designers ensure that their personal opinion and peer pressure do not interfere with the broader impact of what they are putting out?
Ultimately, the public will always have diversity of opinion regarding certain subjects such as political propaganda, as we have seen in recent times. But in the absence of an absolute truth, it should be our duty as designers to always look at both sides of the coin and ask ourselves if our perception of truth is the absolute accepted truth, or even if there such thing as ‘absolute truth’.
Designers are public agents, and our work carries enough social power to change the direction of the entire world.
There are a number of examples including the old graphics and posters such as the ones produced during the Soviet Union times by the likes of Alexander Rodchenko or the controversial cigarette adverts from the Madmen era, where designers genuinely believed they were putting out a message which would benefit the public, only to find out, years later, that that very same message was in fact misleading the public into unpleasant and unrequested consequences.
My personal take? - Design ‘for good’ should always be balanced and considerate of both sides of the coin. Design for unity rather than social division should remain as the main imperative if we want to build unified and fair societies. In conclusion, our role as designers is not only to come up with creative and functional solutions, but also to ensure that due diligence is done in regards to the impact and the motivation behind the briefs we accept and entertain, and how these very same intentions will affect others.
The world is our canvas indeed - So, let’s make sure we apply the appropriate colours.