Responsibility and Design

Ocean 11 club beach clean up field trip, Nov. 2020

I’ve been overly concerned with the environment since I took AP Environmental Science sophomore year of high school. As a child, I would beg my mom to let me go collect trash on Earth Day (an activity I still actively do for fun) but that AP class took my concern to the next level. At my church, I started a battery recycling collection and took that on as my own project. In college, I joined the Waste Watcher’s club (which was basically all about recycle education) and I did multiple events teaching my peers to recycle properly. I have my county’s recycling guide up on the fridge and if my roommates don’t adhere to it, I’ll sort through the trash and do it myself. All things considered, I’d say that if I were to design a product that sustainable choices would be on the top of my priority list. But I also know that all of those little actions are basically useless. The vast majority of pollution is created by Big Corporations. I’m also not really interested in that level of product design. Personally, I think I will be dealing a lot more with social design in my career.

I am deeply fascinated by the way that design can genuinely help people who are disadvantaged in a situation. I think even if I designed the most sustainable, most environmentally conscious, zero waste perfect product I would still have a guilty conscience about marketing products to people. When I chose design as a major I just wanted to go work for a corporation until I pay off my student loans and then do whatever I wanted after that. Now I have some weird thing in my head that says “yes but if I create packaging that perfectly speaks to a target audience then I am directly pressuring someone into buying something they might not need or necessarily be able to afford.” Gee, I need to get over that. Anyways, I am much more interested in doing things in the non-profit sector (my student loans are laughing menacingly at the thought of how much interest I’ll have to pay) because I don’t want to make people think that my product will improve their life if they buy it. I want to give people products that will improve their life if they have them. I recently saw an ad for a jacket that turns into a tent and they supposedly donate one for every one purchased but the jacket was like $450 and nobody with that kind of cash would need a jacket that turns into a tent? All of the comments on it were like “take that $450 and buy 20 regular tents and donate those” and I’d have to agree. Weird marketing strategy aside, I actually did think the design was pretty thoughtful and well-executed and I see how they could be useful. I was pretty inspired by that because although it might not be the best approach, it would make someone’s life better hypothetically. I also am pretty inspired by wayfinding type materials. I love making sure that people are fully aware of all of the resources available to them. I was regularly scouting events on campus with free food, or reading up on different services our fees pay for so that I could tell other students about these resources and how to access them. If there are clearly designed posters or pamphlets that could communicate these resources, that could be very helpful to a lot of people. Another stray thought I’m having on social responsibility in design is to make sure that your work is inclusive and representative. That goes for language and imagery. Is the event at an accessible location? Say it! Do people of multiple ethnicities use the product? Show it! I always feel like there’s a thin line between trying too hard and genuinely caring but if someone is used to being excluded, it can mean the world to them to see your design and feel like they were thought of (but not in a Burger-King-only-put-people-of-color-in-their-brand-photography targeting kind of way).

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