BLOG A: The challenges of human-centered design

The public’s perception often outlines design as ‘a plan or drawing’ which ‘shows the look and function… of a building, garment, or other object’ (Google Dictionary 2019). They may also refer to it as the act of ‘conceiving a plan of something before it is made’ (English Oxford Dictionary 2019), commonly associating it with “glossy magazines, elaborate advertising campaigns, or fancy book covers” (Shea 2011). These definitions however only merely scratch the surface, both design and the designers themselves holding the ability to influence and initiate social change (Shea 2011). This act of human-centered design, or design activism, while able to combat various complex social challenges (Shea 2011), recurrently faces social, political, behavioural and industry barriers. Complicated by companies’ destructive advertising objectives, paired with designers who uphold unethical approaches, design activism proves difficult. Both Indonesia’s tobacco and Australia’s alcohol industries are pertinent to this.

The Indonesian tobacco industry demonstrates how a group may implement barriers, abuse and thrive from design. Indonesia, “the only country in Asia that has not signed…the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control” is undeniably suffocating from toxic tobacco culture (Tjandra 2018). Both political and economic elements appear as the two “driving forces” behind this addiction (Stories 2015), their relaxed regulations accompanied with aggressive industry advertising allowing for cigarette-smoking to become socially acceptable (Hui-Peng & Tze-li 2009). As a result, culture and behaviours are influenced, Indonesia’s leniency ultimately allowing the industry to target a younger audience (as seen in the video below).

Tobacco advertisement intended for a younger audience. This is evident through the young actors, music integrated, and activities portrayed (e.g., street dancing, mo-peds, guitar/rock scene).

Individuals are exposed continuously through “billboards, stalls, events,… [the] internet, [and] advertise[ments]” (Tjandra 2018), all of which are designed with consideration and purpose. Adding to these roadblocks, the tobacco industry boasts the extensive amount of jobs it provides Indonesia, whilst companies such as Sampoerna and Djarum have charmingly developed “educational pathway[s]…which distributes scholarships [and] supports underprivileged schools” (Tjandra 2018), or have “established sports academies for young talents” (Tjandra 2018). These high-volume challenges band together, ultimately intervening with and making human-centered design extremely problematic. Not only specific to Indonesia, this abuse of advertising and the various barriers put forward prove similar within Australia’s alcohol industry.

While design has been used positively with regards to tobacco within Australia (refer to the anti-smoking video below), the stance has not followed suit for alcohol consumption.

Australian tobacco advertisement intended to shock, educate and encourage people to quit (or refrain from taking up smoking).

Alcohol is known “to be the cause of significant physical, emotional and social harm” (Jones & Gregory 2007), and continues to be encouraged and often “designed deliberately to appeal to those under… age” (Jones & Gregory 2007). It seems political and economic barriers (as seen in Indonesia), are too perhaps to blame. US expert on alcohol policy, David Jernigan, states: “the Australian government is failing to… regulate the alcohol industry to stop its advertisements reaching children” (Davey 2017). Proof of this became evident when a report revealed the 2018 NRL grand final exposed children “to more than three cases of alcohol advertising every minute,” while AFL promoted alcohol once a minute (SBS News 2018). Equal to Indonesia’s tobacco industry, destructive barriers are evident. The lax laws, advertising, and their design yet again play a negative role contributing to and complicating the practice of human-centered design.

Research demonstrates the difficulties of design activism, its barriers and how design is used for darker motives. Those designers whom do uphold ethical values are too often presented with various complex and intricate challenges, which dominate and complicate their practice and/or working environments. Although confronted with these issues, the ability to initiate social change is still very much attainable. To gain greater insight into this uplifting realm and the successes of human-centered design, the following post (B) will explore and investigate an effective design initiative of tobacco control.


Shea, A 2011, Designing for Social Change : Strategies for Community-Based Graphic Design, Princeton Architectural Press, New York. 

Google Dictionary 2019, Design definition, unknown, viewed 6 January 2019, <>.

English Oxford Dictionary 2019, Design definition, United Kingdom, viewed 6 January 2019, <>.

Tjandra, N. 2018, Indonesia’s lax smoking laws are helping next generation get hooked, Jakarta, viewed 6 January 2019, <>.

Stories 2015, How Indonesia’s Kids Are Getting Hooked On Cigarettes, video recording, YouTube, viewed 6 January 2019, <>.

StopSmoking4Life 2007, Graphic Australian Anti-Smoking Ad, tv advertisement, YouTube, viewed 6 January 2019, <>.

Iklanesia 2017, Iklan A Mild Go Ahead – Nanti Lo Juga Paham, advertisement, YouTube, viewed 6 January 2019, <>.

Hui-Peng, L. & Tze-li, H. 2009, ‘Smoking and Health in Indonesia’, Asian Population Studies, Vol. 5, no. 2, pp 189-209. 

Jones, S. & Gregory, P. 2007, ‘What does alcohol advertising tell young people about drinking?’ University of Wollongong, Australia. 

Davey, M. 2017, Australia failing to stop alcohol ads reaching children, experts say, Australia, viewed 6 January 2019, <>

SBS News 2018, Australian athletes call for a ban on ‘harmful’ alcohol ads in sport, Australia, viewed 6 January 2019, <>.

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