Emerging Economics | Social | Angie Miller


"Emerging economics" sounds like something a finance major would study and designers would never have to worry about. It's a loosely used word; "emerging economies," "emerging markets," and "rapid-growth economies" are all synonymous newer terms for what were once known bluntly as "less economically developed countries." This encompasses 80% of the world's population - any developing economy with low to middle per capita income. China, one of the world's economic giants, smaller, poorer countries such as Tunisia, and many others are alllumped into this category. With such a wide scope, making generalizations is difficult. Overall, though, the view of graphic design in these countries is much different than it is in the United States.

From a social perspective, it's easiest to understand this when we see that as Americans, we are not classified as an emerging economy. The prevailing mindset among designers seems to be the "benevolent development-helper." Designers can help bring the magic of prosperity and technology to those unfortunate lesser countries! Surely their world will be better if we make it like ours, right? We can adapt our cell phone designs to themso they have flashlights for their unlit streets and dust-resistant covers, as Nokia did. I don't want to say our passion for globalization is bad, because there are definite good things that come out of increased technology and development for emerging economies. It just often turns out that we have big plans to help the world, but they either remain plans or just force the world to become like us.

Critique of idealist designers has popularized signs like this:

Sometimes I wonder what can be done for larger causes as a designer. Helping developing economies continue to grow is a large cause, and designers will likely be the ones asked to help bring our consumerist culture in. We can choose to work for awareness of larger issues, but it still raises the concern voiced in John Thackara's blog:

Eighty percent of other design professionals are in the representation business. But designing a poster about an issue, or launching a media campaign about it, is not the same as helping real people, in real places, change a material aspect of their everyday reality. Development is not primarily about products, let alone posters.

That's a harsh critique. I think raising awareness and bringing attention to issues and work that can be done to help develop other countries is something important, too. It might not be face-to-face with the people we are trying to connect to, but when communicating with a large audience, mass media is necessary. It's behind-the-scenes work, but it might be making more of a difference than we realize.


Thackara, John. "We are all emerging economies now." Observatory: Design observer. 06052008. Web. 6 Oct 2010.

Heakal, Reem. "What is an emerging market economy?." Investopedia. Web.

Jusko, Jill. "Design for emerging markets." Industry Week, 08012007. Web. 6 Oct 2010. .


I have to admit, that I actually really enjoy that poster. I often have a hard time in these sorts of discussions in design classes because I feel basically the same way. I agree with you that the design is important, and a better designed awareness campaign can have a stonger influence than a poorly designed one (which is why I love designing for non-profits, they need us!). But at the same time, when I design something for a social cause, it may make me feel better about myself, but I don't expect my contribution to have a strong impact on the situation itself.
Design is great, but it is really the do-ers who I think should get credit for make a difference. I am not saying that designers can't be important in making social change, but I feel that they must be doing something other than the "behind the scenes stuff". If the designer is also the one creating the campaign, finding the proper funding, reaching the right people, or volunteering, then awesome - but maybe that has to do with social responsibility at a personal level, not as a designer, but as a human being.

I love the poster, I think it's fantastic! 'Design' could be replaced by a number of things, including 'art' and 'music'. "Those who can, do..." and those who do generally get credit for it, in some shape or form. But those who feel the need to change the world and think they can do that with with aesthetics and creativity should always try. Non-profits need advertising too, and important periods in history are best remembered through art and storytelling.
As designers, communication is key, and it can be hard to communicate a cause that you don't believe in, or haven't experienced. Ethics can make or break a good designer, but pretentious talk and action are two very different things. It's definitely important for a designer, particularly involving non-profits, to practice what they preach, and get some real-world experience. Perhaps the growing field of design in "emerging market" countries is flourishing because what the designers lack in pretentiousness, they make up for in real-world experience. These designers bring a unique perspective to the global economy and keep the design snobs on their toes.

This is a great topic. Effective design is important because it equals effective communication.

That said, I don't think it's necessary that a designer participate in the cause he advertises. But as people, credibility is gained when words align with actions. And the nature of our work makes our words and actions inseparable. We support what we communicate, whether we're doling out the soup or drawing it. How much more you want to be invested is a personal choice, not a design choice (unless you're famous).

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Angie Miller published on October 6, 2010 11:04 PM.

Children, Research, & Finance was the previous entry in this blog.

Ownership and the Financial Agenda in Design is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.


Powered by Movable Type 4.31-en