Do Good Design

March 1, 2010 § Leave a comment

(Communication) Design. Sustainability.

I’ve been mashing these two concepts together in my mind for quite awhile now like two elusive puzzle pieces.  I can see how they can fit together, but I also see how they’re incompatible a lot of the time – at least with the way some areas of design are currently practiced.

As I think about these issues I’ve been trying to see what other professional designers are doing to tackle the challenges of sustainability within their own work, and how they are trying to change the profession and design culture itself. I just read David B. Berman‘s book Do Good Design, which is an urgent call for designers to commit to a much higher standard of social responsibility when it comes to the messages they create and the materials they use. He addresses the ability for designers to both widen and narrow the gap between the rich and poor – we can encourage greed and overconsumption or we can inform people as well as promote and provide products with integrity. Also he notes that designers have a key role in maintaining our cultural values through the messages they promote, which in turn influence how viewers assign value to qualities in products, experiences, and people themselves.

Berman believes that designers are responsible for producing socially and environmentally responsible messages, and I’m right there with him. However, I do wonder how much designers really can influence the collective mindset toward sustainability when so many of our other cultural values – cheapness, convenience, consistency, trend-consciousness, instant gratification – seem to be totally incompatible with sustainability. Over the past decades, people in low income brackets all over the world have been taught to covet the material wealth enjoyed by people in wealthy nations. How can designers convince these people to care about sustainability when their own economic needs must seem so pressing?

This was an excellent read and very thought-provoking, needless to say.  I think my next step is to look for more specific instances where a message was crafted well to bring benefits to both the client and the audience in general. Seems like I have quite a bit more to researching to do. Here’s two gems from Berman’s book:

“Design is the universal equalizer. When done effectively and with integrity, it provides aesthetic, economic, social and cultural value.” – Don Ryun Chang, South Korean designer.

“Design creates culture.  Culture shapes values. Values determine the future. Design is therefore responsible for the world our children will live in.” – Robert L. Peters


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