Changing things = Changing behavior
“A closely held belief of mine is that it’s easier to change things than it is to change people. People may want to exercise more, be more creative, or share more with others, but we have ingrained habits that make these things difficult. Design can help by making it easier to live up to our aspirations: by making stairs a more accessible and enticing option than escalators, for example, or creating open spaces where people want to gather instead of being trapped in their cubicles. By shaping the objects, interactions, and environments we live around and within, design literally changes the world.” (Read here on Design for Mankind; quoting Ingrid Fetell of Aesthetics of Joy)
I find this to be a striking explanation for how designers can actually be a catalyst for change. With so many organizations and designers tossing about the words “social change” it’s hard to discern what design’s role is exactly in that change-making. And then some ask, “Who are these designers prancing in so pretentiously thinking everyone needs them to change things?” Several years ago while working at a social design experiment, I was wrestling with that very question—I knew my typography on a poster wasn’t changing anyone’s life. Duh. While lamenting my frustration to a former professor with whom I keep in touch, she assured me that everything inevitably changes, all the time—the point is to push it in the right direction. One way to do that is by shaping the objects we use, the messages we read, the systems and platforms we connect on, and the environments in which we live. A small case in point I passed by recently was the staircase at The New School in New York City. Now who wouldn’t want to trek up those stairs rather than take the elevator?