design: help!?

Posted on by tyler

i recently had a lovely lunch and conversation with my summer intern, logan smith. we were talking about all that dreamy naive stuff that design could do to improve the world and logan mentioned that he wants to use design to help people. a noble cause, and a goal that i share, which i guess explains why we're working together this summer. i got to thinking later on, "what does that mean exactly?", because it can mean really different things to different people. we also have to ask more specifically, "help people do what?" value judgments quickly come into play as to what causes are worthy -- the comprehensive identity design for the third reich helped the nazis effectively add to their ranks, but can also help someone navigate the home ownership process or compare the ecological footprints of competing products. 

sure, design can help us select a brand of frozen food, but is that just a rationalization of the profession's status quo? by "help" in that sense, do we really mean "persuade"? and, really, do we need more people to help us with those types of decisions. there are plenty of designers out there ready and willing to shoot sexy food shots and all that, but not that many really willing to take on the thankless tasks of educating or informing in ways that are truly needed or beneficial for society. 

but the major point here is that it's up to each individual to determine what causes are worthy of design help, or what audiences are in most need of our help. a few questions may prove helpful in thinking about those issues:


  • am i helping someone to become more thoughtful?

  • am i helping in their education?

  • am i helping them make better decisions?

  • am i helping increase health, well-being, equality, justice, (insert your preferred value here)?


what does "design help" look like to you? i'm interested...