Tobias Van Schneider: How design can motivate people to create a better future

Tobias Van Schneider photo and quote
Tobias Van Schneider photo and quote

The good news: Designers today are actively talking about creating for social change.

The sad news: The nature of these conversations is so abstract and lofty, that they aren’t accomplishing much besides a brief feeling of goodwill and a pat on the back from fellow designers. This is the issue with our insular communities. We seek change and do our best to speak up about it, but it often results in hollow echoes bouncing off the walls of our tiny bubble.

Don’t get me wrong. Design by nature improves the world every day. Clear signage keeps us safe and makes society flow smoothly. Beautiful packaging sells products that benefit our physical and emotional health. Well designed posters or ads or websites bring awareness and activate people. Thoughtfully designed buildings and furniture bring us peace, comfort, and a sense of wellbeing.

“We wax poetic about the power of design, failing to use that power for anything beyond a pretty Instagram page.”

But when we speak of “designing for good,” today, it implies something else. We imply that designers should be inspiring social activism, environmental awareness, shifts in culture, and societal behavior. That’s all positive and worth striving for, but I fear it makes designers more complacent than it intends. We end up creating experimental, artistic work that resonates mostly with other designers. We wax poetic about the power of design, failing to use that power for anything beyond a pretty Instagram page. Or worse — we admire other designers who appear to be impacting change, internalizing their work and vowing we’ll someday design something equally great.

Illustration animated with an orange circle coming out of a hole with different words inside
Illustration animated with an orange circle coming out of a hole with different words inside

In our well meaning efforts to create radical change, we forget our wondrous abilities to do good on a micro level. This is the design that excites me. This is the design where I believe I can make a meaningful difference. This is the design within my immediate reach, where I have full control over the end result.

A clean and simple intake form can move people through a doctor’s line faster and more efficiently, allowing them to help more patients. A well designed cancellation flow can mean the difference between an angry person and a relieved one, influencing their mood and interactions with everyone they encounter that day. A completely reimagined “forgot password” experience could allow an older generation to more easily access their financial accounts or medical information. A beautifully designed keynote could sell a world-changing idea to skeptical investors. An intelligently designed customer service page can save us time, allowing us to spend it on more meaningful activities.

“Keep exploring abstract ideas and trying to make them concrete.”

Keep talking and reaching for global change. Keep exploring abstract ideas and trying to make them concrete. But don’t overlook the “boring” or “small” design opportunities where you can affect real, immediate micro-level change. That rote task that seems meaningless or beneath you today could change one person’s life tomorrow.

Originally published at https://humanastudio.com.

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We design disruptive brands for organizations that aspire to have a positive social and environmental impact. Learn more at: humanastudio.com

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We design disruptive brands for organizations that aspire to have a positive social and environmental impact. Learn more at: humanastudio.com

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