Design has a persuasive role to play in social change

What could be more timely than the announcement of the winners in the Voting by Design category of the prestigious Royal Society for the Arts Design Direction Awards.

What could be more timely than the announcement of the winners in the Voting by Design category of the prestigious Royal Society for the Arts Design Direction Awards (see page 7).

As we prepare to go to the polls, the ideas behind the two winning entries show the positive benefits design can bring to the democratic process – as opposed to the disenfranchisement that effectively ensued from the ill-conceived voting slips deemed to have aided the election that brought US president George W Bush to the White House.

The word ‘chad’ must be inscribed as a caution on the hearts of all information designers as a result of that debacle.

However, the work by the RSA’s winners, Lincoln University’s Stephen Shaw and Kingston University trio Elle Matthews, James Muriel and James Tilley, takes voting way beyond information design. Both projects promote social interaction.

Social interaction is a popular theme for many a student project these days. It’s a welcome move in colleges away from pure ‘object’ design and we applaud the RSA for acknowledging it.

While design is key to everything in our lives, from stamps to kettles, newer areas where designers can excel include interaction – at a time when technology’s intervention can lead to isolation – and addressing social concerns such as getting folk to vote, tackling homelessness and lessening the impact of disasters such as the tsunami that struck South East Asia at the end of last year.

It’s a designer’s job to see things from a human perspective, representing the user as well as client interests, whether it’s about campaigning for peace or employing inclusive design to create garden tools that users of all abilities will find easy to use. And this balancing act between commercialism and the consumer invariably calls for interactivity.

To extend that role to service and system design is a natural progression – and one the Design Council, among others, is fostering. It presents great opportunities, not just to boost workloads, but to effect social change.

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