When I was little, my parents told me a story about a man who saved starfish. The story would take place on a beach, where there were thousands of starfish swept upon its shore. This man would walk along the beach, pick up the starfish and throw them back into the ocean. One day, a boy came up to the man. The boy asked why this man bothered to walk along the beach day after day when the effort seemed pointless and futile, there were just too many starfish to save. The man didn’t answer the boy at first, he simply picked up a starfish, threw it back into the ocean, and said “I made a difference to that one.”
Making a difference as a designer can sometimes seem like a daunting task. As designers, we are directed to believe that ‘the client is everything’ and that the consumer or customer will dictate the direction of our designs. But at what point do we as designers gain responsibility?
Take the issue of sustainability or the environment as an example, in a design industry such as fashion, for every tonne of clothing put on the market, over thirty tonnes of waste is produced. (Factor Ten Institute, 2001) Fast fashion, stemmed from our societies need for convenience, is one of the leading causes in our global pollution problem. But can we place all the fault solely on a customer needing the newest trend?
There was an interesting theory proposed by William McDonough and Michael Braungart, (both pioneers in sustainable fashion) who believed that the core responsibility of being ecological does not fall upon the consumer, but on the actual design on the product. They believed that “human beings are not destructive parasites… they are creative partners with the earth” (Mcdonough, Braungart, 2013) and if given the opportunity to choose between right and wrong, have the capacity to change – with the help of a designer to catalyse that change.
The Tobacco industry share similarities with this fast fashion epidemic, where both markets are predominantly driven by what a consumer wants, in comparison to what they need. Capital and commercial advertising benefit from this demand and designers are influenced to go with the status quo, and design for the majority. “Design for the market, not for the individual” (Mcdonough, Braungart, 2013) is a common ideology, however, what Braungart explores, is that you can do both.
People respond to design. Change does not necessarily have to mean getting rid of Tobacco completely, but if given the opportunity, designers can shape the way consumers perceive Tobacco. The measure of success should not be determined by comparing it to the bigger picture, but by focusing on one issue at a time.
It’s not about saving the entire beach, but just by making a difference to one starfish.
Dempsey, S. & Taylor, C. 2017. ‘Designing Ethics: Shifting ethical understanding in design’, Smashing Magazine, Design and Development. [Online] [Accessed 1st February 2019] Available from <https://www.smashingmagazine.com/2017/11/designing-ethics/>
Factor Ten Institute. 2001. ‘Theses for Sustainability in Europe’ [Online] [Accessed 1st February 2019] Available from <http://www.factor10institute.org/pages/theses_for_europe_2001_e.html>
Freestone, O. M. & McGoldrick, P. J. 2008. ‘Motivations of the Ethical Consumer’, Journal of Buisness Ethics, Volume 79, Issue 4, pp 445–467. [Online] [Accessed 1st February 2019] Available from <https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007%2Fs10551-007-9409-1.pdf>
McDonough, W. & Braungart, M. 2013. ‘The Upcylcle’. Beyond Sustainability. New York, North Point Press [Online] [Accessed 1st February 2019] Available from <http://www.robinhowardwrites.com/uploads/7/8/2/1/7821050/the-upcycle-mcdonough-en-19679.pdf>