The last few years are a total mess, but it looks like 2020 has beaten them all. Humanity has to struggle with global warming, racism, sexism, animal abuse, a huge bunch of social problems, the COVID pandemic and, finally, the global economic crisis. Apparently, now is the time to remember the social design and what designers can do to help the world.
A good designer isn’t only defined by their skills — but how they can apply them for the benefit of society. Design isn’t an isolated system, and even in good times, it serves to transmit values and principles of a creator or social group.
Along with that, industrial design, web design, branding, and illustration often function in tandem with all aspects of human life and therefore, can affect collective consciousness. So in terms of resolving various matters, social design is as effective as the efforts of ecologists sociologists, engineers and scientists. The only difference is how it works.
What is Social Design?
There are two focal notions, which define the human-oriented approach: social and impact design. Together, they prove a very accurate understanding of what good design is:
Social design is design charged with social efficacy that aims at challenging existing matters and forming an enabling environment. Social design projects can take any form, from an exhibition, performance or a happening to an installation, photography, branding concept, etc. Depending on the creator’s intent and the form it takes, social design can be an appeal to reflection or a ready-made solution.
Impact design is an offshoot of human-centered design that considers a design challenge and estimates a strong impact that can be reached. It is built around design thinking, and therefore requires a multidisciplinary team to carry out a working concept.
Simply put, social design is for a powerful idea and impact design is for the the measures to make this idea work, and they often go hand in hand to make a change, not just report the reality. And that’s exactly why social design projects tend to be a product of the labor of social scientists, researchers, writers, photographers, strategists, psychologists — not just designers.
Which Aspects of Life Does Social Design Touch?
The complex approach of social design allows its application in any domain, from the restaurant business to eco activism. With my teammates, we’ve been paying particular attention to such projects, doing our best to show you that every impact of a designer is meaningful.
Industrial design, branding and advertising design are the fields where social design thinking can be implemented and be most effective. The reason is that they demand the efforts of multiple specialists and drive the user to a certain pattern of behavior, action or choice.
I frankly don’t support the idea of an illustration as a means of social design. It gives a trenchant social commentary, true — but that’s it. In previous examples, design worked for the benefit of human and society, and it was clear how it performed in every case. With illustrations it’s different. Take thousands of artists who exhibit in modern galleries, take Banksy or any digital artist — they all report a social problem instead of resolving it.
And still, some creators regard illustrations and paintings as pieces of social design that can call for the audience’s position. Well, every impact of a designer is meaningful, let’s treat it this way.
Social Design for COVID-19
The pandemic-related artworks gain in popularity, and it looks like this movement will stay with us for long. Is it another form of design for social impact or the reaction of the creative community? For today, the absolute majority of works is social posters, advertising and artworks arousing consciousness and social responsibility.
Apple performed as an exception and took advantage of its creative powers and expertise by supplying medical workers with over 20 million masks. It brought together product designers, engineering, operations, packaging teams, and suppliers. The result of their joint effort is an illustrative example of how industrial design should work in the context of solving social issues.
As the COVID pandemic will change the reality forever, it will also reflect in a larger number of impact design projects. Creative teams will get involved in supporting small and medium-sized enterprises, raising funds for the medical and social workers, creating a brand-new environment for work and education — and their contribution should be invaluable as never before. But how exactly this will be realized is a matter of time.