Designers must be better trained in identifying business areas in which design can definitely help solve future problems. Design thinking and new design practices can be used for a number of good and bad reasons. While a broader definition of design is now en vogue, a newer, more specialized meaning is increasingly accepted—and it’s going to last for awhile.

Design for (Real) Change

You may want to solve big problems with your newly designed shelter or lamp for the displaced populations in Africa or the Middle East. You have sketched a backpack for refugees that is also biodegradable. You want to solve big problems with your pencil and a piece of paper. God is a designer, and so are you.

Unfortunately, the main problem here is really being able to identify the right challenge to take on. The world has plenty of products, but they’re just not good enough to solve the great problems people in need have today.

Designers are an integral part of the solution, but they’ve also been part of the problem, perpetuating an incorrect narrative in which the poor and the displaced needed our designs to survive and be happy. This misperception was explained in recent talks at the Dutch Design Week in Amsterdam.

“Don’t design yet another shelter” for refugees…”

Future designers must consider changing their perspective on what design can really do and manage. We now have the power and the visibility to change the world, one piece at a time, in “10,000 little steps.” Only by making the right choices and partnering with the right sponsors can good design happen. Part of a designer’s job should be engaging with individuals and institutions able to help with the deployment of a new product.

Today, makers and thinkers can better identify exploitable loopholes in the system, conceptualize ideas and strategies, access local and global resources, and launch businesses that can change society for public good. The clean tech market, for example, has been growing at more than $60 billion every year since 2010, and it’s expanding into the consumer product space with new IoT products and integrated services.

Design with Byproducts of the Bad Industry for a Good Industry In the Circular Economy

Animal blood used by Basse Stittgen to create series of small objects
Basse Stittgen used animal blood to create a series of small objects. Photo: Dezeen


Using a new material or raw unused data would be a great way to lower the cost of acquisitions by 20–30 percent depending on the business strategy and product placement. Emerging economies are writing the future of sustainability with no manual or prepackaged theory. It just comes from necessity, and it’s excitingly interesting. Design thinking and design for survival dictate the rules of good and innovative design.

For the rest of us living in rich economies, frugal and sustainable design may belong to a specific category, an old buzzword. However, what is today a virtue of necessity for many may become not only cool but very much in fashion, and it possibly will challenge less our sense of decency and beauty.

Design to Un-Design

We need to inject more green ideas into our squandering society through some frugal innovation and design thinking. Changing what seems to be unchangeable will be a necessary skill for future designers to have. Reducing costs by maintaining user engagement in a feedback/improvement product cycle is becoming imperative. Making things lighter and simpler will require us to consider:

  • Un-cluttering the assembly line by reducing assembly steps. This may also help improve safety for workers in the factory.
  • Simplifying supply chains by using less variety of materials and manufacturing techniques.
  • Simplifying styles while retaining users.
  • Reducing materials and energy usage while keeping usability and user satisfaction.

PepsiCo, with its brave Chief Design Officer Mauro Porcini, is turning an invariable product like a soda can into a self dispensing device and inventing a new bottle, new packaging, and a different way to buy new pods (tastes) and customize the user experience. Customers’ expectations are higher than ever. High quality and responsible products are at the top of new investors’ requirements to minimize risk and give brands a new and stronger position on the market.

Creating products and services to change certain bad habits and guide the transition to a more sustainable society is becoming more lucrative than in the past. Many public institutions are investigating the opportunities created by frugal innovators and the circular economy, especially in Europe and India.

Optimization in the era of a globalized design community is the key to business success and survival, two things were not perceived as directly connected until recently. We are now sure that public and private companies are seriously considering embedding social purpose in their business strategies.

Cupclub by Safia Qureshi
Cupclub, by Safia Qureshi a circular-economy service that could eliminate single-use coffee cups – foto: Dezeen

Make Problems Visible and Offer Solutions

Through good marketing and thoughtful branding, designers may have the opportunity to highlight important problems and challenges, directing specific messages to specific groups. A responsible designer of the future will be choosing to promote sustainable products and services by adding value to them. The more value added, the more perks the entire economy gets. Let’s take it as a way to redistribute some wealth: Some people chip in by buying a new product, and everyone can somehow benefit from it. Green products work like that.

New and more technical designers will be smart enough to give big data and A.I. human-readable interfaces and streamlined user experiences—both extremely necessary to easily identify business opportunities and leverage points to improve existent strategies. It will be a designer’s duty to contribute to the process of improving user experience by integrating different technologies and expanding human perceptions of reality.

I may be too optimistic, but I’m dreaming of new ethical principles for designers—a new status that can assure them the power of improving business transparency by giving more control over personal and sensitive data. Future users will definitely enjoy more socially responsible services where respect of personal privacy is guaranteed by newly designed businesses.

Bringing It All Together

There are plenty of opportunities for designers around the world to participate in improving everyone’s life. Design speaks the language of business and engineering and acts as a tangible, measurable, actionable tool  in the creation of value for humans and the environment.

In a world where we all can be part of a possible solution, good design choices can help identify the right challenges to take on (design for real change). Good design can suggest new ways materials and data are consciously used in new products (design with byproducts) and can help simplify and streamline the production phase, optimizing available resources (design to un-design).

Finally, design can intelligently denounce unseen glitches in your company or bigger problems in our society. Whatever the dimension of the problem, future good designers must envision a viable and compelling solution, helping others participate in its accomplishment (make problems visible and offer solutions).

Designers of every kind and nature must come together and exchange more useful information, bending some old office rules and using some empathy to better interact with each other.

Design with a purpose. Design to make the world a better place.


P.S. If you are still uncertain about whether you’re going to be a good or bad designer in 2030, start off fresh by asking yourself what your real role is in this society. And then, take action.