How Design can Change the World for the Better

In our chaotic world, design has the ability to start revolutions, move mountains, and create change for the better. Designers pinpoint issues and think of creative solutions to solve them. While the idea of creating change can seem larger-than-life, design practices can help make social change more tangible. From the most minuscule tweak in logos to the most widely known media platforms, design has proved to be an integral part of social change in the world today. 

Design has a long history in creating social change. It has always been a field that has thrived on innovation, never slowing down or losing momentum. One of the only disciplines that is ever-evolving, design has its finger on the pulse, keeping track of every trend, social movement, and fad. The key to creating social change is by understanding how design can change the experience of the varying array of issues we come across in the world. This is where human-centered design (HCD) comes into play. The design field has recentered its approach towards solution-based problem solving and is focusing through the lens of the individual, taking their needs, motivations, and values into consideration along the way. Human-centered design is about fostering a deep connection with your audience through empathetic thinking, creating ideas, working tirelessly to create prototypes, and finally putting your creation into the world. To design effective experiences that achieve positive social change, HCD takes three steps to ensure this:

Principle 1. Agency

Agency is defined as the capacity of individuals to act independently and to make their own free choices. Designers must ask themselves if they are providing a sense of agency to the communities that they vow to help, including underserved communities as well as marginalized peoples. Creating change starts with understanding who our audience is, what they care for, and who they represent. 

Principle 2. Access

To provide access to these communities, a designer must utilize the tools that are readily available in their every-day-lives. Providing access to create social change means designers must take into account the needs of their audience and how to make their lives easier. This is where designers flourish. It is within the nature of designers to create solutions to difficult problems. Both HCD and systems thinking provide methods to understand what’s available and what opportunities exist to increase access.

Principle 3. Action

Taking action to create social change is the last part of the process. Designers implement their solutions into the world and work towards the betterment of society. This can be done in a multitude of ways, whether it’s through the internet, through education, through media, or through product design. This means that the world is your oyster! Design is a field that allows you to think outside of the box and dare to dream bigger than yourself. In a CNN interview with the author of the book "Glimmer: How Design Can Transform Your Life and Maybe Even the World", Warren Berger states: "If design can change water delivery in a certain part of the world, then it changes that part of the world for those people. That's the way design changes the world."

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Human-centered design principles can be found all around us and are used by all different types of fields, not just design professionals. Andrew Bastawrous is co-founder and CEO of Peek Vision, a social impact organization that uses smartphone technology to radically increase access to eye care in some of the most challenging places in the world. Bastawrous is also an ophthalmologist (eye surgeon) and Associate Professor in International Eye Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Using the principles of human-centered design, Bastawrous decided to tackle a question that he has spent most of his career answering: “Could we harness the power of mobile technology to deliver eye care in a new way?”

By taking into consideration the needs and obstacles that his clients face on a daily basis, Bastawrous revolutionized the medical field entirely. With the help of his team, Bastawrous developed 3D-printed, low-cost hardware that comes in at less than five dollars to produce, which can then be clipped onto a smartphone and makes it possible to get views of the back of the eye of a very high quality. Not only does this benefit a vastly underserved community, but also takes into consideration a population of people who may not be able to afford quality healthcare. Human-centered design principles helped guide his solution process, creating a product that is not only effective, but life-changing.

The new generation of designers are putting their heads together to solve some of the biggest issues the world faces today, like poverty, injustice, and hunger. With the power of technology, any person, no matter who they are, can be a designer. All it takes is the bravery to dream of change and have the motivation to achieve it. Afterall, design is change.

This article was contributed by Sofia Ghasemi.