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“Change Society”

Posted: April 25th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

Change is the key word to stand by when anything is being designed. Whether the design is directed towards an entire country or simply a personal item, focusing on economic, social, and environmental costs should all be the driving factor, rather than producing based on consumerism. However, with industrialization, designers naturally support industries and help the sales of goods, through the shaping and packaging of consumer products in order to appeal to a buying public. Many designers have questioned this role of simply serving industry and are reconsidering what design should focus on now. American journalist and author, Warren Berger said, “What design actually can do, it can solve problems on a case-by-case basis around the world. As it does that, it changes the world, because it changes the reality for people wherever the situation is happening.” [1] Thus, all design should focus on changing society rather than producing wasteful and obsolete goods to stimulate demand.

When design does not intend to change society it persuades people to buy things they don’t need.  In the late 1900s, Ken Garland explained it as an “empty drive of consumer culture.” [2] Garland declared that there should be a change in both priorities and purpose, and that a good designer should make their works useful to the public, while also addressing educational, informational, and practical needs. [3] When this does not take place, excessive waste is created. In Made to Break by Slade, Giles it is stated: “In 2005, 100 million cell phones were discarded in the United States, which produced 50,000 tons of reusable equipment, and another 200,000 tons for dismantle and disposal in regards to PCs.” [4] Therefore, design should change society now more than ever. Since consideration of economy, environment, health, and safety has been put on the backburner for so long, it is the designer’s job to not only focus on positive change but also attempt to make up for the time and resources that have been lost.

Companies such as Brita are performing in this way. In 1966 Heinz Hankammer understood that water is our key source to life but that impurities needed to be removed in order for it to be an even healthier resource. [5] In the process of designing a filter that would remove these harmful impurities, Hankammer examined the AquaDeMat filters in garages throughout Europe that dematerialized water for car batteries. From this he was able to create a filter that is now the basis of any Brita product. Hankammer investigated and designed products with the intent of positive change. Along with that he already had a solution in support of the green movement that would come a few years later.  According to the Brita’s official site, today, “One Brita pitcher filter can effectively replace as many as 300 standard 16.9-ounce bottles. One Brita faucet filter can effectively replace as many as 750 standard 16.9-ounce bottles.” [6] By producing and selling reusable water filter products, whether that is a pitcher or a single water bottle, it is evident that consumerism was not the fundamental idea on which Brita items are built on, but is a result of people desiring to take advantage of the change.

Project H Design, started out with a small vision of change that led to larger, unexpected, changes along the way. Emile Pilloton desired to improve a poor education system in a rural, run-down area known as Bertie County. Now it is a newly designed community. “Design for social change,” is Project H’s design attitude so the team implemented design aspects in numerous ways through the school system which could then be used as a vehicle for community development. [7] Three aspects are focused on: design for education, redesign education itself, and design as education. All of these changed, and are still changing, the Bertie community for better. With recycled materials, the school was physically renovated, and teaching materials were renewed. Then, Project H considered how the school was being administrated and to whom. Fundraisers were held to provide a computer for every home that has a child in school.  Next, Project H asked how the school could be a catalyst for the community. Finally, students were assigned projects that reached outside of the school’s walls. The projects are directed towards things that the community needs. In woodshop, for example, students conduct research, design concepts, then build and test projects that will be put into the community. In three years, they plan to complete an open-air farmers’ market, shelters for the school’s bus systems, and improve homes for the elderly.  Summer jobs are offered and the students are even invited to be employees with Project H. The change of this community started with one design team that wanted to better the education in their hometown. When designers sincerely start with “changing society” as their motivation a chain reaction naturally occurs and inspires others around them to do the same.

Antenna Design started, as many do, with a hypothetical, “blue sky” proposal for a public space intervention concept in 2005 for New York City called the Sidewalk Series. It aims to improve the lives of those who reside in the city by installing furniture and fixtures on the streets, sidewalks, in parks, and around buildings. Antenna’s goal is to encourage people to step outside of their daily routines and interact “either between the artifact and people or amongst people mediated by the artifact.” [8] The Hugging Tree is an example of an interaction between the artifact and people. In a park-like area, “arms” would be installed on various trees, then when someone approached it, the tree would embrace and comfort the person. The Sidewalk Exchange shows how furniture would initiate interaction between people. Seats are installed on a wall with a chalkboard above each on which people write a message in order to initiate a conversation. As a result of these exchanges, the city would be connected and shaped by these spaces, and they would become a normal part of the urban experience. Through this project, designers focused on figuring out ways for people to break away from the stressful chaos that comes with urban life by encouraging residents to interact with the people and environment around them.

In 2009, with the collaboration of frog design and other firms, HIV/AIDS and TB epidemics in South Africa have been effectively addressed using mobile technology. After extensive research, the different firms created Project Masiluleke, meaning, “lend a helping hand.” Frog design claims it to be the most successful attempt yet in conquering the worst HIV epidemic in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa where more than 40 percent are infected. Since almost 90 percent of people in South Africa own a mobile device, Project M has used the technology to its advantage. As stated on their website, it encourages the “use of low-cost diagnostic test kits; to walk patients through the at-home testing process; and to guide people into care should they need it and encourage healthy preventative behaviors if they don’t.” [9] By designing a system that allows users to be tested and informed of results discretely, more were eager to respond.  The Economist said “This campaign helped triple the average daily call volume to the National AIDS Helpline, encouraging more than 150,000 people to reach out for information.” [10] These firms changed South Africa’s society by working with a medium that people already had.  In doing so, the feedback was phenomenal and showed that the best way to get a response from society is by genuinely wanting to help the society.

Jon Kolko, former associate creative director at frog design said, “Good design is design that changes behavior for the better…It encourages us to change the way that we live.” [11] When designers disregard this idea, society is not able to move forward. However, when designing every aspect of a product or system with the motivation to change society, more people are reached, more problems are solved, and fewer resources are wasted. This, then, is the standard of good design.


Works Cited:

“About Us: The Origins Of Brita | Brita.” Brita International. (accessed March 30, 2011).

“Antenna: Projects > Concept.” Antenna: News. (accessed March 6, 2011).

“Brita Water Filters / Dispensers / Faucet Filters: You Can Be Drinking Pure
Water.” Brita International. (accessed March 30, 2011).

Drucker, Johanna, and Emily McVarish. “Pop and Protest.” In Graphic Design History: a critical guide. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2009. 288.

“Jon Kolko On Design That Changes Human Behavior –” Information for the
World’s Business Leaders – (accessed March 6, 2011).

“Project H Design.” Project H Design. (accessed March 6, 2011).

“Project M | frog design.” frog design | Global Innovation. (accessed March 6, 2011).

Slade, Giles. “Introduction.” In Made to Break: technology and obsolescence in America. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2006. 1.

Tanneeru, Manav, and CNN. “Can design change the world? – CNN.” Featured Articles from CNN. (accessed March 6, 2011).

[1] “Can design change the world? – CNN,” Featured Articles from CNN, accessed March 6, 2011,”

[2] Johanna Drucker and Emily McVarish, Graphic Design History: a critical guide, (Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2009), 288.

[3] Drucker and McVarish, Design History, 288.

[4] Giles Slade, Made to Break: technology and obsolescence in America, (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2006), 1.

[5] “About Us: The Origins Of Brita | Brita,” Brita International, accessed March 30, 2011,

[6] “Brita Water Filters / Dispensers / Faucet Filters: You Can Be Drinking Pure Water,” Brita International, accessed March 30, 2011,

[7] “Project H Design,” Project H Design, accessed March 6, 2011,

[8] “Antenna: Projects > Concept,” Antenna: News, accessed March 6, 2011,

[9] “Project M | frog design,” accessed March 6, 2011,

[10] “Project M | frog design.”

[11] “Jon Kolko On Design That Changes Human Behavior –,” Information for the World’s Business Leaders –, accessed March 6, 2011,


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