In the design community, a great deal has been talked about in terms of the need to address social issues through design but who best to empower has yet to be answered.
The Rockefeller Foundation and IDEO have even created a “Design for Social Impact Workbook” to act as a tool to motivate design firms and help them plan how they want to get involved in social impact projects. The Workbook interestingly asks firms to indicate their reasons for wanting to design social impact including – reputation, employee retention, profit, honing skills, and of course social impact itself – with high, medium and low prioritization for each. Looking at leaders in the design industry, you see a whole spectrum of approaches from the historically significant ad agency The Ad Council to innovation consultants wanting to do good IDEO.org.
Speaking from our own experience, our design firm iiD never truly planned to do social impact design work, it just sort of “happened” in 2013 with a RFP landing in our inbox from a local non-profit which we fortunately won. Like discovering that we like jogging, we decided the benefits (innovative and meaningful work) make it hard to quit. In fact, prior to us getting so wrapped up doing social design, we found ourselves being outright cynics towards firms that called themselves “social change communications agencies”. Now we may be targets for others cynicism.
Fast forward three years, our work designing and engineering platforms for young people to do social impact has taught us about the power of young people as problem-solvers. Yet, according to the Berkeley Media Studies Group, only 1% of media representations of young people are positive. Putting both social impact and youth-oriented design together, we find ourselves often thinking about how design can potentially help shape social change, both now and especially in the future as a younger generation of activists are effected by the experiences we create. Our own projects for ThatsNotCool.com, IWitnessBullying.org and currently a new project for Peace First attempt to address issues that effect young people, including teen dating abuse, bullying, and racial and gender prejudice. Most importantly we attempt to empower youth to take action around these issues.
Yet in many ways it is a far bigger scope, touching on existing platforms such as Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook and how they are designed and influence the behavior of young people. Even more interesting is how they could be utilized by these users to take a stand, create social impact and make real change in the world. I challenge the big app players to step back from their CSR programs (here’s Facebook’s) and instead design and engineer ways to help young people make a difference in their day-to-day lives. This is the sort of thing Adobe is trying to do with their Project 1324, to help “emerging creatives to connect, share, and increase the visibility and impact of their work”. Ultimately, the goal for iiD is to take it beyond the digital to make a real impact.
Going forward, with our research, design work, writing and network building, I plan to learn more about what makes young people better social activists, peacemakers, volunteers, philanthropists, and good people in general. This post is an invitation for dialog between our little team and yours — to discuss, learn more and co-create. And as a parent I ask myself what should my kids believe in and act on as they encounter social injustice in their lives.
If we believe in the power of young people to change the world, how can our design work empower them to do so?