Big Idea Saturdays: Design is a tool for social change.

#1 Design is a Tool for Social Change

While it is not some new concept to consider design and the design process as a force for good, allow me to throw my hat into the ring. Design, by nature, is not a political ideology or set of values, it is merely a process. Before we go further, let’s try to define what this process is.

Modern, human-centered, designers will tell you that design is the way we come up with new systems, products, and visuals that improve the lives of the user. Functionalist designers will tell you that a definition like that is redundant, and merely appeals to the concept of functionalism as the root of all design decisions both visually and behaviorally. Others will tell you design is all about bringing humanity into objects or about changing natural systems to better suit our species.

I, however, offer you a more general one which I think can tackle all of these: Design is the process by which a problem is solved, using a method of observation, research, creative ideation, construction, and feedback.

Design is a what we do when we look out into the world and see something that is amiss. We see that a chair is causing back problems, so we change it so that it is ergonomic. We see a company which is having difficulty portraying their brand to the world, so we design a logo that represents how they feel about themselves. We see a public space that is underused, so we design an urban plan to turn it into a playground.

Any project that we take on as designers is about solving a problem, however minute. It can be about finding a new way to explore beauty or it can be about finding a new way to ecologically package food. However, we can use it for something more than mere objects or graphics. We can use it to take on the biggest problems in the world: disease, poverty, social injustice, and hunger. Design is crucial to every stage, from the big ideas, to the objects that make it happen.

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