Some social good
I was going to do a usual year-end wrap up for this blog post as I have done in previous years. But, as it's the start of the new year already, I thought set my stall out for the coming year. What do I want to do, rather than what have a just done.
A couple of days ago, I was reminded of a video I watched a while ago about Free Enterprise via my friend Andy Rutledge.
I'm always interested in how other country's politics, viewpoints and economics work, and this was no exception. Rather than to bat down things like capitalism, I'm making a concerted effort to understand the nuance in such things.
As someone who runs a design studio, a publishing company and a web-based design tool, you could count me in the group of people who work hard for what I get. And I'm rewarded for that. I don't expect a free ride. I don't expect anything beyond the realms of what is offered in the country I live in (such as state health care and education etc. In fact, I pay for that through my taxes – the NHS is not free). But before I disappear into a politics hole, I want to bring this back to design.
Running a design company, we charge clients for the work we do and for the customers who use our products and buy our books. In doing so, we create jobs, and more tax revenue for the government. But one thing I don't agree with from the video above is that what i'm doing is a purely selfish exercise. I'm not just doing business to pay the bills, design great products for clients, and give people work to do. To me, there is more to making things than just making things.
I believe my job is not only about doing work for clients but that I have a social responsibility to make the world a better place through the work I do. Design is a powerful tool to affect social change. However small.
Let me give you an example.
You're out for a walk at lunchtime. You come at a road crossing and there is a family by your side waiting to cross the road. The crossing indicator is counting down the seconds, but you spot a small gap in the traffic for you to cross. You just skip across the road, running in between cars and carry on. The family is left waiting for a safe gap in the traffic.
- Think that what you did was fine? It was safe for you to cross. No problem.
- Do you think that you should've waited next to the family to build upon the good example the parents were trying to show to their small children that they should wait for a safe gap in the traffic to cross?
It's a small but important thing. And this is social responsibility. A responsibility to help the community around you, and not through just helping yourself. Next time you take on a design project, just stop for a second and think:
"beyond getting paid for this, and making my client's business better, what is the benefit in doing this work? What is the social good?"
In addition to the work itself, ask them if you could blog about the process, or speak about the work at a conference. If it's something you really believe in, could you offer do it pro-bono, or heavily discounted? Could you open source the code produced? How about aspects of the design – such as icons? Could you have one of their team members sit with your team for the whole project to soak up your skills? How could you benefit the web design and development community and still get paid well?
We're in an incredibly fortunate position as designers to create change in the world. Many people can't. Or simply won't. Through our products, our work, and how we talk about it, we can have a much greater benefit to society that just lining our pockets.
This is exactly what I plan on doing in 2014. Happy New Year!