A New Yorker walks into a San Francisco start up…
Jennifer Daniel

Meaningful Work is a Choice

You can help save babies and prevent global warming, if you want to

I enjoyed Jennifer’s opening statement and agree with many of her points. Too many designers choose to work on things that are not “truly meaningful” and get caught up in ego stroking. But we can choose what to work on. There are plenty of meaningful opportunities out there for creatives, including companies Designer Fund has invested in like AltSchool and Omada Health. Re-designing schools from the ground up and preventing millions of people from getting diabetes is meaningful to me and I hope it is to you too. Regardless of your position on the ill formatted question, “Can design change the world?” you can ultimately choose what to give your attention to and decide what’s meaningful to you.

For more examples of meaningful opportunities, below are my opening and closing arguments from the Design Debaters Club. Thanks Airbnb for being wonderful hosts and Daniel Burka and Jon Lax for being great teammates. Please excuse any exaggeration below meant for entertainment purposes at the event.

Opening: Design can help save lives

Raise your hands if you’ve looked into the eyes of a newborn baby? Do you remember the innocence in their eyes and even their super cute little fingers and toes (you almost want to eat them)?

1 million babies die a year on the day of their birth and 3 million more die within their first week. The leading cause is pre-mature and low birth weight, which can result in hypothermia where the baby is unable to regulate their own body temperature. Even at room temperature they’re freezing. In emerging markets like Africa and India, desperate parents try to use hot coals, hot water bottles and even light bulbs to keep their babies warm.

Entrepreneurs from the Stanford dschool started a company called Embrace to solve this problem. They designed effective phase change material that stays warm for 6 hours to stabilize a baby’s warmth, designed it to be 1% the cost of a standard incubator, and made it portable, hygienic and safe.

For example, Kiran Devi is a 20 year old mother that lives in the village Bhaktakheda in Uttar Pradesh India. When she was in labor it took over an hour to reach the local clinic and after her premature son was born she used Embrace to keep him alive. Embrace has also helped the Mulagro Hospital in Kampala, Uganda where approximately 186 premature infants are born every month (enough for each of you to hold two premature babies in your lap). Without Embrace, many of those babies in your hands could die. Embrace has clearly demonstrated that design can change the world. They’ve helped save the lives of over 144,000 babies, trained over 4400 health care workers, and educated over 9200 mothers, in 11 countries around the world.

What could possibly be more valuable than designing products and services that help save lives? If you don’t think design can change the world, then you don’t care about all of those pre-mature babies and you would just let them die in your lap. If you don’t think design can change the world, you’re pretty much a monster like that guy (point to Marc Hemeon) who hates babies.*

*This was added for dramatic effect, I hope Marc actually loves babies.

Closing: Design Affects Climate Change

Raise your hand if you believe humans have influenced climate change and global warming? Raise them high and keep them up for second… If you use any product or service that emits carbon emissions including cars, transportation, electricity and food systems, you should be raising your hand.

Great, so we’re nearly in UNANIMOUS agreement that the way humans have unintentionally or intentionally designed the products and services we’re using today has fundamentally altered our world on an unprecedented scale.

This graph, based on the comparison of atmospheric samples contained in ice cores and more recent direct measurements, provides evidence that atmospheric CO2 has increased since the Industrial Revolution. (Credit: Vostok ice core data/J.R. Petit et al.; NOAA Mauna Loa CO2 record.)

According to data from NASA and peer reviewed research, for the last 650,000 years (WAY before this guy Jesus was born), we have not had more atmospheric carbon dioxide than we have today. There is unequivocal evidence for global warming including sea level rise, ocean acidification, shrinking ice sheets, decreased snow cover (we can’t even go snowboarding in Tahoe anymore), extreme weather, and global temperature rises, including one of the worst severe droughts on record in California. I bet many of you forgot about the heat wave in Europe a few years ago. Peer-reviewed analysis found that more than 70,000 PEOPLE DIED (~23X times the number of people killed on 9/11). Not to mention, we’re currently experiencing the sixth biggest mass extinction of species since the LOSS OF THE DINOSAURS 65 million years ago. Literally dozens of species are going extinct every day.

LEFT: July 28, 1986. RIGHT: July 2, 2014. Alaska’s Columbia Glacier descends through the Chugach Mountains into Prince William Sound. When British explorers surveyed the glacier in 1794, its nose extended to the northern edge of Heather Island, near the mouth of Columbia Bay. The glacier held that position until 1980, when it began a rapid retreat. The glacier has thinned so much that the up and down motion of the tides affects its flow as much as 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) upstream, until the glacier bed rises above sea level and the ice loses contact with the ocean.
LEFT: 1882. RIGHT: AUGUST 11, 2005. Muir Glacier. Also see this image pair, this image pair and this image pair of the same glacier.

All of our design decisions that result in products emiting carbon and greenhouse gases on an individual, state and national level add up to change our world. This has been proven by SCIENCE and recognized by top scientists around the world. So if you don’t believe design can change the world, then you don’t believe climate change is happening and you are complicit in polluting this planet, killing ecosystems, plant and animal life that will never return. Basically if you don’t think design can change the world, then you’re ignorant and want this planet to be worse off like a scene from Mad Max for our grandchildren and their grandchildren to come.

Image credit: Mad Max Fury Road
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