Using Design to Change the World

Without question, we have all played a part in contributing to the current state of our overproduced, over consumed, tired and polluted planet. Collectively, our choices and actions have created trends and behavioural norms that are destructive and reckless.

Thankfully, we’re beginning to wake up. As consumers, we’ve become more conscious, ethical and discerning. Producers who employ sustainable practices are being favoured above those who don’t.

Sustainability is being placed at the top of the agenda by new and disruptive companies across the globe. Emerging industry leaders are embedding ethical decision-making across the board - materials, manufacturing, service provision, administrative infrastructures and communication.

Design plays a hugely important role in this process.

“Design-led companies create products in response to customers’ needs and desires, but they aren’t afraid to bring their own vision to the market. They are willing to put long-term brand strength ahead of short-term turnover, and they aren’t shy about sharing resources and opinions with design thinkers outside their organization to strengthen their offer to customers.” - Benedict Sheppard, McKinsey & Company

These are exciting times for creative thinkers and designers. Design innovation is being recognised as integral to the vision, success and performance of an organisation. Many global enterprises such as Accenture, IBM, O2 and GE are acquiring successful design agencies to quickly bolster their internal design capabilities and integrate a design-led culture into all areas of the business.

The following slide from a presentation by Greg Petroff, chief experience officer at GE, neatly illustrates the role of design for any company that brings products to market.

Adding Design to GE's DNA

At last, organisations are taking note and including design roles in their C-Suite. This uniquely positions designers to raise standards, provoke new ways of thinking, encourage dialogue and change mindsets at the highest level.

McKinsey & Company launched a big piece of research in October last year called ’The Business Value of Design’. 300 global companies were interviewed and 5 years of research analysed. The conclusion? Firms that embrace design generated 32 per cent more revenue and 56 per cent more shareholder returns than rivals over a five-year period.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Design has the power to reframe complex issues, shape new solutions and influence societies and economies. When contemplating the growth in value and demand for design-led thinking, we should be mindful that “with great power comes great responsibility.” (Voltaire). As designers, we need to assume moral responsibility and ask ourselves the following questions:

  • Are we promoting the continuity of consumption at the expense of other people’s well-being?
  • Should we be giving a voice to the global executives, political leaders, social influencers who neglect the preservation of natural resources, local communities and environment?
  • Can we use the power of design to transform a self-serving business from within?
  • Can we use our talents to challenge, inspire and motivate humankind in an uncomplicated, accessible and relatable way?

More than ever, brands need to operate ethically, deliver value and contribute to the common good. As designers, we are both recipients of and contributors to the products and services that surround us. We have a duty to consciously choose who we empower and what we put out into the world.

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Interview: Paul O'Hara, ChangeX