Good Design | Designed to Innovate: Steven Johnson


Do you believe that design has the power to change the world, and if so, how?


I think the very existence of a piece of design or communication changes the world—often in ways we aren’t aware of or didn’t intend. Aside from the product, service, brand or cause we are working on, the design itself has an impact on the recipient or user through the values, the emotions and motivations we invoke. When we consider the all-pervasive nature of advertising and design, it’s easy to see how, collectively, the unintended or unconscious effects of our work can have a considerable cumulative effect on the values and norms of a society or culture. Materialism being the most notable case in point.

This is one of the main themes we’re trying to build awareness of through Considered Creative: everything we do as designers or creatives has an impact—our work is never neutral. So I think the real question here is how we make sure design changes the world for the better.

In terms of the ‘how’… well, in broad strokes there are two main things we can focus on. Firstly, we can tackle social and environmental issues head on: use design thinking and ‘designerly ways’ to address specific social or environmental challenges. This is both in terms of designing specific interventions, products and services, but also in embedding design thinking into the policy, strategy and culture that are more systemically related to those challenges.

Or, in line with the point on unintended consequences, we can ensure we approach every brief as a social change brief. By this I mean, by developing a better understanding of how our work impacts on society, we can take a more considered approach to everything we do. We may not be working on a social change or sustainability project, but we can ensure that whatever it is we are designing creates positive, or at least minimises negative, impact.