In the Indian subcontinent, it is monsoon time, and a time of the year when all conversations revolve around rainfall. Too much! Too little! Too late! Rising water level of this or that river!
What’s more heat waves, no longer a regional phenomenon, are lashing large swathes of Europe, Africa and Asia.
It is a time when climate change is experienced not as an abstract idea or a topic for an animated debate, but as a grim everyday reality that refuses to adhere to any solutions or patterns or predictions.
And then arises the inevitable thought: how can a designer – product designer or web or UI/UX designer or any other kind of designer – become part of the solution for climate change? What can a designer do to influence or impact climate change, even if in a small way? Climate change – that juggernaut with all its uncertainty, its irreversibility.
Here are some fairly simple ways in which a designer can make a difference.
Think holistically, think big.
When working on a project or system, ask the larger questions about the entire system: who will use it and how, what is being reused and renewed (as against creating from scratch), who all will not be able to use it, and its expected outcomes. Remember to ask the bold questions that people may not be readily willing to discuss – due to budget or time constraints, or lack of awareness, or just plain lazy to think wide and deep. Having the larger picture will inform your design in more relevant ways.
Graphics and visuals, user journeys, navigation labels, simple elements in a design can actually create awareness and sensitivity towards climate change or sustainability or environment (as appropriate in the given context).
Having it as a core concern will, in any case, enable you to think of and design visuals that ‘speak’ climate-change awareness, and in turn, influence users and stakeholders.
Have ethics for your work and collaborators.
As a smart designer you remain aware of the bottom line and the need to balance ‘good’ and ‘worthwhile’ projects that inspire and give you a sense of a larger purpose along with ‘mundane’ corporate work that keeps your boat afloat.
Global studio leaders, however, underline the importance of getting picky today, with clients as well as collaborators within the fraternity. Given the urgency of response required by the climate emergency we collectively face, this seems like a sensible, life-affirming way to go.
Then there are designers who believe that their creativity should be employed in ways that serves society rather than to come up with ‘cool’ things that end up ‘persuading customers’ and driving consumption. For instance, a global design agency used its authority to promote an environmental group, through creating its Christmas campaign ‘Ungifted’, that used powerful visuals to discourage mass consumption.
We could think of it as a moral arc that every designer (actually, every human) designs for themselves, and then tries to remain as true to it as they can, while juggling life’s multifarious challenges.
Keep learning and pass it forward. Take responsibility.
Climate change is a juggernaut, yes! It is also complex and has various interconnections, nuances related to geography, economics, seasons and species. Everything’s linked, and everything’s changing – very quickly We need to learn, keep learning, and at the same time, help clients and teams unpack its layers.
Keep reading, keep up with the research, get connected with groups that resonate with you, and be aware that there is as much propaganda on this topic as there are authentic resources.
Taking responsibility is a big step. In small ways – those invisible actions nobody will see and judge. Recycling tins, minimizing use of plastic and packing material, planting a tree. Starting small is a big point of departure from our present ‘hyper life style’.
The monsoons will give way to sunny days in a couple of weeks in India. And while that might keep our water worries at bay, climate change will not fade away as a universal fact of our current existence. A wholesale redesign of our world might be the way forward, one design practice or visual at a time.
And if you have reached here, then do take a couple of minutes to also read this post.
Photo by Akil Mazumder: https://www.pexels.com/photo/person-holding-a-green-plant-1072824/