— Farwa Kazmi | Blog

Examples of Conscious Design for Social, Political, and Environmental Change

With a plethora of issues affecting our world today, we must consider how we can advocate positive change. As designers we can contribute in our own ways by devising creative strategies, systems, solutions, and most importantly by delivering this message with strong visual impact. As I was browsing through Design Observer, I came across several great projects geared towards solving social problems.

I have seen some great ideas over the years, and I’ll be sharing a few of my favourites so you can gain a better understanding of how  design (print and interactive) can be used as leverage in helping organizations, create awareness and serve as a valuable way of solving global problems.

1. Reducing Energy Consumption Around the House

Pentagram and GE’s Interactive Inforgraphic enables users to calculate how much energy each appliance uses. With icons of each appliance, it informs the readers about power consumption, gas consumption, usage in watts, and cost in dollars along with suggesting methods of reducing energy and electricity in the house. Brilliant tool. I’ve been using it myself. You can read about the initiative here at Pentagram news, and please view the Live Version to test it out for yourself.

2. Providing Relief for Children in Africa

The Dreamball Project  is an interesting sustainable non-profit project where relief kits are provided to developing countries by the UN and Red Cross. The packaging is specifically designed to be re-used as this lovely box can be used to create soccer balls for children after the contents of the kit have been used. It is a great way to reduce waste, re-use and recycle an existing product, and also provide a useful item for kids who have nothing to play with but rocks. It also encourages community development as the kids can collaborate and get engaged in building the soccer balls with volunteers or friends. Please see the detailed documentation at The Die Line.


3. Access to Education for Poor Children – OLPC

Nicholas Negroponte, the founder of MIT took the initiative to create One Laptop Per Child. Yes, it seemed farfetched when it was proposed that they could distribute a $100 laptop to provide education to the poorest children around the world, but look how far they have come. This initiative has provided a source of education and learning for many children around the world. It’s quite famous, so you must have heard of it. You can even check out the TED Talk here where he explains how education is the most essential building block of solving problems and creating a brighter future.


4. Fixing a Damaged Political System

After the realization that the voter turnout ranked fairly low in Utah, a student at the School of Visual Arts in New York created a campaign to create political awareness and encourage people to vote. A block party kit was created to be distributed by both Republican and Democratic Organizations to bring people together and address the socio-political needs of their community.


5. Political Awareness + Educating and Encouraging People to Vote

Conversely, I personally also liked the interactive system called Vote Compass created to encourage democratic participation for the Canadian Federal Election. Promoted by CBC, it allowed users to answer questions regarding key political issues and then calculated which political party best matched their opinions. It was a good tool for the average citizen without any in-depth knowledge of the political landscape to see where they fell on the spectrum. The system was later adapted for Albera’s provincial Election. You can check out the live version along with the results. I hope they bring back an improved version with new features for future elections in Canada.


6. Creating Recycling Awareness Through Social Media

With a reputation for being a social media guru, I was excited to see Mashable post this one to inform their viewers. Now, someone should try to take this further and actually translate it into action with measurable success.


7. Awareness of Laws and Regulations for Street Vendors

With over thousands of vendors in New York City who are often fined for violations and unaware of their own rights, a system was devised to inform and educate them about city regulations. But how do you communicate complex legal information and educate people about laws and regulations when most vendors are immigrants who have trouble with English? Candy Chan’s well-known Street Vendor Project addresses the issue by visualizing this information, and providing text in over 5 languages! I initially heard about it when it was shown to our information design class by our professor as part of her lecture. It also has a featured case study in the book I just ordered: Designing for Social Change.


8. Tenant’s rights and Housing Laws

Candy also created another project about tenant’s rights and housing laws to help solve legal issues, and keep citizen’s informed about their rights. These carefully devised card packs are a wonderful source of knowledge for the average citizen because they organize information in a way that’s understandable for everyone.


9. Non-Profit Websites and Systems

A strong web presence is essential for an organization or business. Actually in today’s digital culture, sites need to be optimized, flexible and adaptable for mobile browsers, smart-phones and tablets as well. Principles of good design, navigation, accessibility and information architecture are vital in creating a strong front. Here are some beautifully designed sites for the non-profit sector that inform the audience and encourage dynamic user participation.

Well Done: An organization that provides clean water and helps communities in Africa build wells.

Website for “The Canada we want in 2012″. The interactions are mapped out beautifully, please view the live version.


Website for a non-profit shop which enables people to buy prints and support Cancer Research. Check out the lovely design here.


10. Sustainable Housing Shelter

I wanted to feature an architectural, way-finding, and environmental design project since those designers work very hard to strategize and devise long-term plans for sustainable development. Here is a rendering for a Homeless Shelter in San Luis Obispo by Gwynne Pugh Urban Design Studio in conjunction with garcia architecture + design.


11) Sustainable Packaging 

After months of examining box fabrication and shipping processes, Puma and Yves Behar devised a new sustainable solution to re-think the shoe box, reducing cardboard use by 65%.

“Puma estimates that the bag will slash water, energy, and fuel consumption during manufacturing alone by 60%—in one year, that comes to a savings of 8,500 tons of paper, 20 million mega joules of electricity, 264,000 gallons of fuel, and 264 gallons of water. Ditching the plastic bags will save 275 tones of plastic, and the lighter shipping weight will save another 132,000 gallons of diesel.” — The Dieline

12) Green Shipping

Packaging for Ebay was designed to be re-used over and over with a tracker for the box’s journey which enabled users to leave a message for the next person. The lovely illustrations were also specifically geared towards creating an awareness of recyling and green shipping.


Well there you have it. Solutions that involve all aspects of design from info-graphics, to well-articulated packaging, powerful campaigns, websites, print systems, and of course diverse online interactive tools used to either educate, inform, or persuade people to act. Hurray for Design power!

Hope this inspires other designers, and that all you non-designers learned how good design can provide value.


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