Socially responsible design – more relevant than ever

Jan-Christoph Zoels, Experientia’s design director, took part in an interesting discussion on socially responsible design for the “Design matters” section of this month’s frieze magazine, a leading magazine on contemporary art and culture.

The roundtable discussion was led by Eugenia Bell, design editor of frieze, and debated the largely unresolved relationship between design and social responsibility.

The six high-profile contributors included GOOD editor and New York Times columnist Allison Arieff, industrial designer Ryan Duke, activist, graphic designer, writer and programmer John Emerson, editor of Change Observer Julie Lasky, and designer and artist Damon Rich, as well as Experientia’s Jan-Christoph Zoels.

Starting with the strengths and limits of designing with a sense of cultural, ecological or economic responsibility, the roundtable went on to discuss the increased relevance of socially responsible design in our post-economic crisis world, as well as the increasing urgency of embedding sustainable solutions into everyday design, rather than consigning it to a niche.

Debating ethics, pragmatism and principle, the contributors emphasised the urgent need to engage people and governments in participatory processes, and to ensure that designers are taught not just how to design objects, services and processes, but also how to design them for the end-users, taking into account different cultural needs and barriers, and never backing down from new contexts and challenges.

The final question raised the issue of socially responsible design becoming simply window-dressing or branding by companies lacking a real moral compass, or well-meaning but misdirected attempts by groups who fail to address the underlying issues of a specific problem.

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