Design With Responsibility In Mind

I remember the first time that I truly recognized the power of design as I walked aimlessly through an Ikea and 45 minutes later walked out with a ton of ideas for the big house I didn’t own. Thanks to the gamified experience and elements of surprise along the pre-determined path, I gave a significantly longer portion of my day to the Swedish company and from that moment, my relationship with Ikea was never the same. Each time thereafter, I planned well in advance to spend a considerable amount of time when visiting and came to the store with an intention to buy. Ikea’s retail designers knew by being intentional with every step of their user experience, they could really change the way that people shop for furniture. They, in turn have reaped the rewards in dollars, francs, euros and everything in between.

In my opinion, designers should only design having first assumed the responsibility that comes with that privilege. From a more technical perspective, think of the ways in which gadgets like iPhones and tablets have shifted our brains to actively seek responsive communication, it’s really impressive and extremely transformative. You now see children automatically drawn to this way of communicating and it’s clear that our brains are in fact changing. The beauty of design is that it has the power to affect the evolution of humanity in very positive and beautiful ways. To be a designer means to hold a very influential position, one that can shift experience, enhance senses and potentially alter the way people relate to one another. With that kind of power, inevitably should come a sense of responsibility and empathy for the audience’s audience.

“Always design a thing by considering it in its next larger context — a chair in a room, a room in a house, a house in an environment, an environment in a city plan.” — Eliel Saarinen

When I talk about “designer” here, I mean that in an all-encompassing way — he or she who has a pen in hand with the intent to create should assume responsibility for his or her achievements and shortcomings. So I’m not just referring to the artist, architect or the graphic designer but also to the strategist, marketer and urban planner too. This topic came to mind because of a conversation I had recently where, like many other people found themselves doing last week, a friend of mine and I spent longer than we should talking about Kanye West, his album release drama and social media tirade. In her opinion, him saying things to bring down other artists or disrespecting the women he’s romantically involved with has little to no effect on anyone but himself, his fans and those that seek out his material. She believes that artists, celebrity figures, and designers get more credit for culture shifts than they should and that we all just shouldn’t take these things so seriously. In a way, she’s right and we should all have the mental fortitude to make decisions for ourselves and to block out the nonsense. But the reality is that, regardless of one’s ability to make sound judgement calls of what to listen or pay attention to, we cannot escape the environments that are built around us.

And this is not a case for more censorship, it’s quite the opposite. I think everyone should have the ability to create freely but I also think that designers should recognize their power, influence and the everlasting effects they can have on society… good, bad or ugly lyrics. One should really consider the context in which they play/perform before releasing their work because nothing that exists in this world exists in a bubble. There are always long lasting ripple effects that will exist long after your album hits the shelves or car design hits the lot. Consciously or subconsciously, the design decisions we make today will inevitably shape the way humanity moves forward.

“The notion is that whether we’re conscious of it or not everything that we design is designing us back. We are being actively designed by that which we have designed” — Jason Silva

With that in mind, aside from me thinking that all design schools should offer a crash course on how the brain develops (but we’ll save that for another day), I have a few suggestions for designers, marketers, artists and the like that could make a blimp on the radar:

- Think systemically, then design — it’s not enough to just think about your car design when the emissions it will emit can have an effect on our planet

- Explore the fringes, then design — think of your extreme users, and the underserved, they are effected most severely by your design decisions

- Explore who you are, then design — think about your own personal values and bless the world with your true intentions


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