Voxpop – What is the best example of design making a difference to society?

Occupy London has launched the Occupy Design group, which aims to examine design within the context of protest and its ability to create social change. What example do you think best sums up design’s ability to make a difference to society?

Chris Harrison

‘Designers and artists have an adroit ability to help society to see things differently. I’m a fan of the “empty wall” (a simple design) and the way artists/propagandists/agitators fill that void with a compelling call to arms. The Occupy movement is creating its own exciting visual heritage as did the May 1968 Uprising in Paris. The legacy, both ideological and visual, that these movements leave behind sows the seeds for how society thinks, feels and acts for generations to come. Design, in a commercial context and on the whole, follows society’s needs – while these movements shape how society thinks. And that is what’s really exciting.’

Chris Harrison, creative director, Harrison & Co

Paul Bailey

If we take design to mean graphic design in this instance, then its ability is in encouraging society to make a difference. Design cannot create change in itself, but what it can do is engage, encourage and embolden, it can inform, inspire and identify. Within the context of protest an example of design which has become ingrained in societyʼs consciousness is the international symbol for peace. This symbol was also used for Ban the Bomb, the CND, during the US civil rights movement and anti-Vietnam protests, and finally used by those opposed to apartheid in South Africa. All pretty influential movements. However, even this symbol has a dark history, with links to SS Nazi uniforms, anti-Christian groups and Satanism. It is societyʼs related meanings which give design its influence, and these can change through the years. Design can spur society on to action, but itʼs the action that makes the real difference. Design affects society, but society effects change.

Paul Bailey, partner, 1977 Design

Dominic Wilcox

‘Greenpeace raised money for its new ship through a website showing a beautifully-crafted blueprint of the boat. You bought individual components, from a light switch to an anchor, rather than just donating a sum. People who would normally have no interest in giving to charity were being offered an engaging and fun way to be involved.’

Zoe Bierman, designer, Think Public

Dominic Wilcox

‘The ‘Litre of Light’ should win every design award going but will never be found in a design shop. A simple yet ingenious idea to bring illumination to the millions of dark, windowless, shantytown homes around the world. The light itself is created by cutting a hole in the tin roof of the home and inserting a used plastic bottle filled with water and a drop of bleach. The sunlight from above illuminates the water to the same level as a 50 watt bulb and enables those inside to live in the way we take for granted.’

Dominic Wilcox, designer and maker

Andrea Siodmok

‘Design actively creates a better world. Take the internet and mobile phones. These science-fiction technologies, when made usable and desirable by designers, have totally transformed our global social consciousness. Yet awareness is one thing and action another. Our biggest design challenge is still global inequality and the wasted talent that results. Thankfully design-ledcompanies like Virgin are taking a stance and in his fascinating book “Screw Business as Usual” Richard Branson shows that social conscientiousness can also be good business.’

Andrea Siodmok, innovation and design consultant

You can read more about the Occupy Design group in our sister title Creative Review here.

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  • Virgin Unite November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Hi Dominic,
    Thanks for mentioning ‘Screw Business As Usual’ in your post.

    From the Virgin Unite Team.

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