My mother told me to always make good choices.

4 years ago by

Written by Laura Kerrison 

My mother told me to always make good choices… But sometimes, as a designer in this crazy ol’ world, it doesn’t always feel that easy.

We are experiencing the exponential growth of technology and an accelerating pace of change, doing things that weren’t possible 10 years ago, and that will probably be outdated in five. Businesses are working differently as new frameworks for organisations means new ways to leverage systems and get things done.

And yet despite this, with our new sets of incredible tools, methods and opportunities, there are massively wicked challenges facing our world right now — climate change, inequality, political and social instability are some.

This is an important and riveting time to be a designer. It’s also scary as hell!

Rather than taking on every scary problem the world faces, as rad as that would be, I’m interested in understanding how we can make regular and achievable choices, in the field of design, that have positive impact and build our capability to take on the big scary stuff.

In order to advocate for and create good work, we need to lead by our own work choices. Once these things are running smoothly, those big ideas feel, not easy, but certainly a little less scary.

Choosing who you work with and how

We’ve all heard it before, do unto others… Working with the right people is something that we all inherently know we should do. But when you just need a job, it’s a bothersome thing to keep in mind.

Everyone is different, so I can’t tell you who you are willing to work with and the kind of environment you want to be in. But as an example, a few items on my list are:

  • I want to work with a diverse range of people, not just in ethnicity and gender but in backgrounds, opinions, work processes and beliefs
  • I want to work in environments where said diversity is encouraged and opinions respected, especially if they challenge the status quo
  • I want to work with efficient teams, who respect the work enough to make effective decisions and progress them
  • I want to have debate and discussion, fun and laughter

By creating positive work environments and processes, you enjoy what you’re doing, you create better outcomes, and you begin a vital conversation and precedent on the way people and workplaces should behave.

Big or small, your work matters

Often when studying or reading about design, we hear of Milton Glaser’s 12 Steps on the Graphic Designer’s Road to Hell. The steps begin with ‘Designing a package to look bigger on the shelf’ and end with ‘Designing an ad for a product whose frequent use could result in a user’s death’.

While some of the steps may not occur in your design career, the thing of note is that slippery slope from making small ethical concessions to larger and intentional misleading or cynical projects.

Don’t be afraid to say no. Turning down projects that don’t align with your values is not only important for your own conscience, but to the very real people who are affected by your work.

Ask yourself, is my design helping someone? Is it causing someone to suffer? How would I feel if this product were designed for me?

For more on Ethics in Design, I recommend this post from Tobias Van Schneider.

Big meaty stuff

And then of course, there’s the real big stuff – tackling some of the major systemic problems affecting communities, societies or the world. With anything this big the real problem is finding one thing and getting started.

Find that thing that really grinds your gears, whether it’s within your direct community, or a global challenge. Apply your design thinking and skills to determine the real problems lurking underneath – the five whys are a good method for drilling down into this. Look out for organisations and initiatives already working in the area you care about. You won’t solve any real problems in a vacuum, luckily for us NZ has many generous resources and communities you can connect with — Creative Mornings, Design Assembly, Techweek to name just a few. And then do what designers do best – try things, test concepts, problem solve, be creative and share your ideas and challenges with your community.

And always ask yourself, is the work that I’m doing helping someone or something, or is it adding to a problem?

(image credit: Jonathan Simcoe, Unsplash)

Laura Kerrison is a UX Designer and advocate for purpose-driven business. Laura is passionate about building the resilience and capability of our communities to tackle real problems, take on exciting challenges and create better, equal opportunities.


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