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The Designer Who Changed the World

Catalina Butnaru - Monday, April 18, 2011 |

Design can change the world. As a matter of fact, we absorb and adapt to changes every day, using products and services that didn't exist months ago, exploring new possibilities of interaction and re-designing the world we live in, our life style and our tools. 

In this article we will talk about change driven by design. In each section and give an example of a solution or product that significantly changed our perception, behavior or interpretation of the world, to support the idea that change through design is not only possible, but a fundamental aspect of a discipline that drives innovation in every industry we have known so far.

Photo by Martin Borjesson

The Designer Who Envisioned Change

The most impressive way designers can change the world is by re-designing the tools we use to create, share and monetize products and services. People may not change, but their behaviors do. Change the tools they use to interact and make sense of the world around them and you will see new forms of interaction coming to surface. When you speak of emerging technologies you essentially speak of emerging behaviors, and this can be seen in current web app trends, web businesses and consumption habits.

Let's consider WalkIn for example, the mobile app that won the StartupBus competition at SXSW Interactive 2011, and also managed to change behaviors on both ends (the restaurant staff and the consumers). The main purpose of WalkIn is to help people better utilize their waiting time until their table is available at a restaurant. So what changes in behavior did WalkIn produce? The customer has the freedom to enjoy what they want to do even when they are "waiting in line" and the restaurant staff can manage waiting lists better. The best part about this app is that restaurants don't need to use a physical beeping card to let customers know their table is available, they use a service, which can be cost-efficient and eco-friendly.

So how do designers imagine change? The premises for change do not lie in what people do, but in the tools (products and services) we use to do things better. So re-designing tools produces innovation. That's where change starts and that's why change happens.

Screenshot of Walkin

The Designer Who Refined Identities

People can use web identities to reflect their unique characteristics. The power of customization is similar to the power of attraction in offline world interactions. What attracts you most about people? Is it their everyday appearance and routine? No, it's more than that. It's a special feature or personality trait that sticks with you as a vivid memory. That trait or feature can become something like an iconic offline version of your Gravatar. The extent to which designers can refine and transform identities exceeds the power of any other industry (fashion, cosmetics, home products). Designing your digital identity happens not only through interface customization, but also through the multimedia content you create over time, the conversations and the communities you are part of .

An online environment, such as Twitter, Facebook, StumbleUpon, Quora or Dribble, provides different meanings of expression that challenge the user to reveal the most desirable aspect of their identity or even discover new opportunities to prove their influence and desirability. The more complex the patterns of interaction, the more refined identity expression becomes.

Building refined identities through Quora

Quora is different from all the above mentioned community oriented websites because the way it refines your identity is it puts your knowledge, judgement and personality to a test, even with the most trivial questions. At a very subtle level, the rules of Quora make it a very complex social game where authenticity and influence is displayed not only through followers and votes, but also through the way you answer other people's questions. The way you would express yourself on Quora is different from Facebook, because the concept of identity on Quora plays with your ability as a person to generate solutions from the ideas people introduce to the "game".

A more recent example of app that refines identities through design and different forms of expression is WonderShake, a location-based iPhone app that won Teclosion Spring 2011 in Tokyo. This app creates a social profile of yourself and shares it with other people nearby, who are connected to the app. This way, you can use your online description of yourself (your "inner taste") to make more friends and meet new people. It's the opposite of what some critics of the tech bubble predicted would happen: instead of increasing our isolation, it helps people connect with one another easily when they might not have otherwise.

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WonderShake Logo

The Designer Who Imagined Possibilities

Imagination is closely tied to our senses, and we can use any type of sensory impression to create something that makes sense and speaks to us at a deeper, emotional or conceptual level. Still, we seem to come up with more unique ideas when playing with information visually.

Designers see the world from different perspectives. Sometimes, to reach a solution, you really need to visualize your options or the data you have available. Our brain uses and processes information mostly in the form we receive it first hand, so we need to mentally adjust that by re-imagining the information we have; then we can be more creative in our interpretation of it.

Hans Rosling explains statistical findings through dynamic graphs

Information visualization is a fundamental way of triggering change through design. Vision, taking shape of immediate representations, conceptual organizations, inner imagery or symbols, are our most refined and evolved mode of interaction with the world. Together, art and design have the power to merge meaning with emotion and inspire change in the world through the simplest or the most complex ways imaginable. Recently we've seen great identity and graphic designers like Jacob Cass supporting Japan through minimalist posters, but beyond that, change and insight happen every day in the world as a result of design meeting science through visual explorations.

Endnote: Can design change the world? Yes. It cannot change everything, but some aspects of the world can be fundamentally changed through design. We find new solutions when we see the world differently, when we envision change, when we refine forms of interaction and see new possibilities beyond the status-quo. If you enjoyed this article, please share it with your friends or let us know what you think about it.

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Comments
Garold Split commented on 10-Aug-2011 08:56 AM
I heard about Jacob Cass designer ... especially capable guy ... I would say professional of his affair... on his credit there is already considerable amount of awards for its participation in various competitions... this guy can change any vision of the
world

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