The second class of our AC4D Theory course started with a set of fascinating and deep articles. Three classes of active discussions brought so many new and provocative thoughts in my head. The biggest value of the Theory class for me is to think about a phenomenon I didn’t think about before and look at well-known problems from a different angle. In these three sets of articles, we were reading about modern tendencies in design for good and about designing with the best intentions.
We started with next five articles.
The first article I’ve read was “Rethinking Business Plan Competitions”. It gave me an answer to why so many “with-good-intentions” solution and businesses don’t work as expected.
“On the importance of theory to design practitioners”, a conversation between two teachers of the Theory course at AC4D, brought light on the bad and good of modern education – the focus on practice and avoiding theory.
Human Codebreakers, the article about the research of our another teacher – Lauren Serota – brought a lot of questions to the room, from technical, for example, about the recruiting process designers used, to ethical, such as “giving more freedom to Muslim women” approach.
The last article of this blast, Fallacy of Good, revealed several moments designers should always remember about designing for marginal groups.
One of the articles in next set was very eye-catchy. “Everything is Fucked” is a fresh look at Internet and people’s nature.
“Did this non-profit crack the code for building developing world housing?”, asked in a title of another article about success on a small non-profit in resolving consequences of natural disaster comparing wi a huge worldwide organization.
Another catchy name of the article with no less catchy content is “Sex doesn’t sell anymore, activism does. And don’t the big brands know it” where the author described how companies approach a new way of selling things through “coolness” of activism we have today.
Jon Kolko in “Our Misguided Focus on Brand and User Experience” describes the goal of User Experience design and our responsibilities as the designers.
In “Save Africa: The commodification of (PRODUCT) RED campaign” we found out about two campaigns with the same goal – raising money for people in poverty, but with totally different approaches.
The last set continued to open up the topic.
In “Yet another dilemma” Richard Anderson covered the topic of fundraising for a private person’s need as a form of social activism.
He highlighted another aspect of the topic – gratitude – in “Reflections on gratitude” and showed the spectrum of reactions and expectations people have as a result of their donation.
We learned about the story of creation and “success” of the well-known High Line in NYC – “The High Line’s Next Balancing Act” told the story from its designer’s perspective.
The interesting format of business for social good was described in “Spain’s ‘Robin Hood Restaurant’ Charges The Rich And Feeds The Poor”. The article raised the topic of the dignity of the poor.
Big discussion was led by “Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: A Mirage” – an answer on another article we read in Q2. The author argues the idea to sell to the poor to bring them out of poverty, instead, he offered directly raise their income by buying from them.
All readings, combined with social designers guest from SXSW, as well as our city engagement projects in studio class raised a big question in our heads: do we want to work for good and change the world, and if yes, how?
This question was in an air for nearly two weeks now and each of us is getting his/her own answer. Successful examples inspire to take an action, unsuccessful examples inspire to learn about people deeply and design ethically.
As a result of swimming in all of these articles and trying to make sense of them, I came up with a crossword puzzle where I tell the story of social entrepreneurship through questions and answers.
The American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) runs a webcast series called Design For (1)Good whose focus areas are designed for democracy, diversity and inclusion, women in leadership, and design for communities. And this Institute is not the only one who focus on that. Designing for good is the new way to solve social problems.
Designing for good means to design (2)vulnerable population, often marginalized groups, people who need support for different reasons. One of the groups who gets a lot of public attention is (3)refugees. Amongst others, Starbucks CEO wrote an open letter to staff committing to hiring 10,000 and Airbnb was supporting as a reaction to Trump’s program.
In “Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: A Mirage” written by Karnani, those people considered as a bottom of the pyramid (BOP) – people who live in (4)poverty. Karnani questions (5)affordability of most of the current designs of products for people in poverty. He believes that only raise of (6)income will help people to find their way from poverty.
But how to design to really make a change?
First, we as designers, need to know what exactly we are trying to change. In the first place, we hope to get (7)behavioral change. For example, not only give people money but change the way how they spend them.
To do that, we always need to ask people we are designing first. “To provide opportunities for government and citizens to work together by connecting civic challenges to community problem-solvers” and “built out of the belief that the best way to tackle challenges that affect the community is with the (8)community.”
“The only thing worse than not asking the questions is not paying attention to the answers that don’t fit into their worldview because it’s inconvenient.”
What should designers always give credit to and take in consideration thinking about people they designed for and about themselves as creators? Human nature and technology. Especially Internet.
“The problem is, as far as I can tell, the internet and its technologies don’t deliver us from (10)tribalism. They don’t deliver us from our baser instincts. They do the opposite. They mainline tribalism into our eyeballs. And what we’re seeing is the beginning of that terrifying impact.” Mark Manson
And from the same author: The world runs on one thing: people’s (11)feelings. And no, I don’t mean the coddled, “Oh, we’re spoiling the youth,” safe-space-type feelings. I mean emotions. Emotions rule the world.
Usage this knowledge about people may lead people to different solutions of social problems. So, RED campaign based on people’ desire to feel good – selfish altruism. The campaign encourages you to buy things to support the poor. This is what makes it successful and what brings a lot of critique – promotion of (12)consumerism. One of the strongest opponents is buylesscrap.com who asks people donate straight to charity organization and, surprisingly, buy less (13)crap.
And even most of the social projects get a lot of critique, some of them happen to be incredibly successful. Classic example of products of “A single-serve revolution” that was launched on poor markets and brought value is (14)shampoo packed in single-use bags.
Some solution not only really solves people’ problems, but bring Nobel Prize to its designer. This is what happened with Muhammad Yunus, founder of the Grameen Bank, who created (15)microcredit solution for the poor.
This successes and failures are good lessons for fresh designers, and for experienced also, to skip typical mistakes that were made before. Also, knowing how people’ brain works and how a behavior change happens is extremely useful for designers. However, modern education and work environment try to focus on practical part of studying only, avoiding to dive deeper into human nature that comes through learning (16)theory. Jon Kolko said: “But in the context of a real world design problem, (17)intellectualism without the substantiation of tangible design artifacts is just noise.”
Learning theory is important. No one should go and do make mistakes in the world instead of learning them from books. Especially those designers who are Designing For Good.