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Week 17.

Is design really helping?

A Donut by Kylie on 3 May

On Saturday I stumbled across a tweet from a reporter who showed a before and after picture, just four minutes apart, of a well known temple. In the first photo, everything was fine; the temple was surrounded by tourists and locals going about their business. In the second photo, the temple was nothing but a pile of rubble; not a soul to be seen. I had, of course, stumbled across a tweet about the devastating earthquake in Nepal. It was the first I had heard of the earthquake and over the course of that weekend, I continued to hear the media report about the various aftershocks and consistently obsess over the climbing death toll. While I was appropriately upset by it all, I continued with my weekend as if it were no different.

On Sunday night, while reading about the looming deaths of two Australian men on death row in Indonesia, I learnt about a woman named Mary Jane Veloso who was also on death row for allegedly smuggling 2kg of herion into Indonesia. I learnt that she had been sitting in an Indonesian prison, on death row, for 5 years. I also learnt that at that time, at that exact moment, there was a strong case for her innocence; a victim of human trafficking rather than a knowing drug trafficker herself. Despite this, her death for a crime she may not have committed was clocked at being less than 48 hours away.

I struggled to fall asleep on Sunday night. I couldn’t stop thinking about Nepal and about the group of people in Indonesia waiting out their final hours and saying goodbye to friends and family.

And yet, I eventually fell asleep.

When I woke on Monday I learnt that over night civil unrest had broken out in the USA in response Freddie Gray, an African American man who had died in police custody despite being declared as healthy at the time of his death. This prompted the community of Baltimore to protest against racially-driven police brutality in the United States. While there were plenty of peaceful protests the media chose to mainly highlight the violent protests. Protests that were allegedly started by a small handful of people who most likely had no stake in the cause.

And yet, with everything going on in the world, I went to work on Monday to spend my day, and subsequently my week, moving some pixels around on a computer screen.

I had a rough day on Monday. With everything going on in the world at that particular time, I couldn’t think of anything else other than:

“All of this is happening in the world and I’m sitting here doing “nothing”.”

I eventually reached the point where I felt physically ill. I was mentally and emotionally drained and I probably wasn’t as productive as I should have been. I have no idea why these things have such a profound effect on me. I’m going to guess that it’s not totally a bad thing but I’m going to go ahead and guess that it’s not totally a good thing either.

While I love what I do and enjoy it very much I often question what I actually spend my days doing and wonder if it’s enough. What if my time could be better spent making more of a tangible difference in the world? In the grand scheme of things, is it really important that this checkout process affords This Company XYZ sales? In the grand scheme of things, does it really matter if this text is correctly kerned? In the grand scheme of things, does it matter if I use Photoshop over Sketch? In the grand scheme of the things, does it matter if we have “empathy” if that empathy is only channelled into creating nice user experiences? In the grand scheme of things, is “design” — by any definition of the word — really helping?

I don’t mean to trivialise design, I really don’t, because in answer to the above questions, of course it’s helping.

I know that design — in the formal or informal sense — plays an extremely vital part in the way the world is shaped. I know that it has the ability to transform the way we live, the way we communicate and the way people perceive the world. I won’t say that design by itself can “change the world” but all in all, I know that design, especially teamed with technology, can carve powerful and innovative pathways for the world to move forward.

Maybe it’s just not helping in the way I want it to.

It would be illogical to suggest that I can’t enjoy what I love to do because there are terrible things in the world so how can I make what I do more meaningful to the world and what’s going on in it? How can I make more of a real-world difference using the ‘thing’ that I am supposed to be good at? Am I already doing it without realising? Do I even need to?  Do I accept that, perhaps, I’m just a very small cog in a much larger machine? Does this even matter?!

…I have no idea.

This week's donut?

I'm not sure that I have a particular takeaway this week as I definitely haven't resolved these thoughts. If I were to offer any takeaway it would be to not just take design at face value. I'm not suggesting that design should fix all of the world's problems, but can we delve deeper? Can we, as designers, make things better?

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