Design for Social Good – Part 2: Why is it Important?

Sheila Levrant de Bretteville, Director of Studies in Graphic Design at Yale University says, “Designers have to make their own choices… as to how best to contribute to our shared culture. All graphic design is by its nature social, so it is a matter of which kinds of social engagements are most desirable to you.”

I used this quote in my presentation at the Design Assembly conversations back in 2010, because it speaks to the power our choices hold, and I believe it still holds true. We control the companies and causes we work for; the work we break our backs over. Our choices can help to reshape the world locally and globally.

New Zealand is consistently ranked as one of the most generous countries in the world. Giving is a part of our culture. And with over 97,000 community organisations nationwide, there are a lot of ways we can give. But with all these groups trying to share their amazing stories, a lot can end up getting lost in the content overload of the Internet age. Often all these organisations need is a little bit of help to articulate their causes, clarify their goals, and figure out how to best speak to, motivate and activate their audiences.

This is where we as designers come in.

We operate in the overcrowded marketplace, and our jobs require us, daily, to find ways to cut through this glut of information and to communicate our clients’ message in clear, creative and attention-grabbing ways. This means we’re familiar with the strategies required to speak to such an overstimulated audience.

Social Design asks us to seriously consider where we’re placing our efforts. There are so many organisations in need of help. And so far this role has mostly been filled by larger agencies, working pro bono. This has produced some amazing pieces of award-winning work. And for a cash strapped sector, this is a very welcome ‘hand-up’. But in some cases it can also be one of the issues.

The status quo as it sits today, places charity work, as done by bigger agencies, firmly in the ‘awards bait’ category. And unfortunately this can mean that, at times, an organisation’s social objectives can get lost in the rush for awards glory.

I believe a more focused, empathetic approach is necessary to give these groups a professional, creative voice; one that can proudly sit alongside the campaigns of corporate businesses.

It was this thinking that led my business partner Eddy Helm and me to prioritise this social sector. We’re passionate about giving voice to cause, and supporting the battle to be heard. And so in 2012, Eddy & I founded a social business called Curative; a creative agency that works on projects that help make the world a little bit better. Our clients include community and not-for-profit organisations, philanthropists, government partnerships and social enterprise ventures.

Over the past couple of years, our little creative agency has had the privilege of working alongside some incredible, purposeful, passionate individuals, organisations and their causes. Whether working with leading non-profits, like Oxfam & Global Poverty Project, or creating targeted behaviour change activity like Common Ground, Steer Clear & The Harbour, we’ve really enjoyed connecting causes with their intended audiences.

For us a key tenet of Social Design is the use of co-design practice. Co-design is about capturing the different perspectives, insights and experiences, of those within the target audience, and working together to co-create design solutions that can lead to high levels of ownership, and use.

At Curative, we are committed to using co-design as a way of developing useful, innovative and meaningful design and communication solutions. This is the way that we’ve decided to practice Social Design. While it’s working for us, we’re aware that it isn’t the only way to do it.

Next week I’ll be looking into what else is out there, and how can you get involved in Social Design in some way, if the fancy takes you.

Jade Tang-Taylor, is the co-founder and design director of Curative; a creative agency that works exclusively on projects that help make the world a little bit better, co-host of CreativeMornings/Auckland and is a Design Assembly friend