The society we are in right now is filled with countless problems ranging from our personal dilemmas to global issues. However, a solution that is ever-present remains unnoticed by many, and sometimes, not given enough importance and attention to: design.
Even in childhood, my fascination with design innovations—from environmental graphics, technologies, advertisements to editorial designs—made me dream of being a designer. I remember bringing home or taking photos of design materials I liked for future references. One day, at a book fair, a nice bright red book titled “Just Design” caught my attention. Aside from design inspirations, it showcased designs which were made to solve real world problems.
As an amatuer designer, that very moment made me ask myself: Am I doing my work as a designer right? Does my design do any good to the environment I belong in?
From that moment, I decided to be a designer who's socially responsible; someone whose works serve as solutions to certain real world problems.
The unnoticed problem-solver
Design is more than its outside appearance—its function and relevance creates its value. Every designer is called to help create solutions for daily problems and make lives easier and less stressful through the value of their outputs.
Socially responsible design, as defined by designer and professor William Mangold, is a design that addresses societal needs and experiences more than its form and aesthetics. Practicing socially responsible design can start in very simple ways. It can be by making an infographic that could raise awareness, reusing glass jars as plant pots, partnering with non-profit organizations in making their design materials, or supporting an advocacy.
Some notable innovations in the design world today includes the usage of yellow-colored safety signages which are believed to be easily recognized by the human eye; the installation of environmental designs on streets like destination markers or plant pots for beautification which also doubles as barriers and protection to pedestrians from possible accidents; the construction of center islands plant boxes or traffic islands on roads to control traffic and reduce road collisions; the removal of handles on push sides of “norman doors” to avoid confusion in using doors; and even the placement of graphic images on cigarette packagings to warn smokers on the negative effects of smoking.
These innovations are all products of careful designing and problem-solving while considering how it will be used by the public.
As one continues solving the problems surrounding them, they realize there are various ways to practice responsible design; and through small steps, the design translates to bigger actions for the future.
Designing the pandemic
Along with the rise of social issues during the pandemic, more designers are now recognizing socially conscious and responsible design.
"Art for a Cause" posts have been started by several artists to spread awareness and raise money to help frontliners.
Front Line, a group of young Filipino artists, has organized a page that accepts art commissions that will be donated to their partner local NGOs, such as Frontliners' Kitchen, Accessiwheels, Life Cycles PH, and Wear Forward. As of June 19, 2020, they have raised a total of Php 32,216.20 for the frontliners.
For news agencies, graphic designers ensure that their data presentation in various publication materials, collaterals, and infographics are accurate and easy to digest for proper information dissemination.
Meanwhile, environmental graphics in most public areas remind us of health protocols during this pandemic. Markers on floors or chairs are seen in public markets, MRT trains, and jeepneys to signify where to stand, sit, or stay. Plastic barriers on counters and baskets with long handles have also been recently designed to collect payments with less physical contact.
Sani Tents PH, a volunteer group of UP Diliman students, also showcases a socially responsible design by developing a sanitation tent structure design that diffuses disinfectant solutions for individuals passing through it.
Additionally, since many countries have already required people to wear face masks, it has become a challenge to the deaf and hard-of-hearing community to communicate properly with other people. This resulted in many individuals creating their own versions of their clear masks to enable lip reading and better communication. Meanwhile, Redcliffe Medical Devices in Michigan designed the world’s first FDA-registered, clear mask to have N99-standard air filtering abilities as well as a self-purifying feature that is sure to kill bacteria and viruses.
At some point in our lives, we may have overlooked a designer’s job. With the rise of more socially responsible designs, we should remember to support some of the problem-solvers of society because they are the ones making our lives easier.
As Lieutenant Governor of California Gavin Newsom said, “Designers carry a heavy responsibility, but at the same time they can offer our future the greatest gift.”
Designers don’t just design for aesthetics, it's about addressing and solving problems, making sure that life is easier, and contributing to the good in the world because after all, design should create a change, and that change should be a positive one.
So the next time you design, remember to design for change.