John Thackara (I know, I know) stated in his book, In the Bubble, "designing is what human beings do." He means all of them. Some are arguably more adept. Color, shape, format, message. We design-types understand how to use these things to desired effect. Yet, as a group, we are baffled at the general ignorance about design by the general public. We've discussed it many times in class: how marketing messages can manipulate audiences/sheep, how packaging decisions affect the environment, how recycled paper is probably b.s., and how most of our shirts are made by hungry toddlers in Viet Nam. It's disturbing to some, and just noise to others. But assuming as a group we actually care and stop eating McChickens, buying undies labored over by kids, and turn away the sweaty salesman selling shoddy a/c units, are we, as the smart sheep, still responsible for creating a demand for good design? If so, where do we start? Explicit promotion (Trust us, this Eames chair is super well-designed!)? Message manipulation (eating local vegetables will make you last longer in bed)? Sit there and hope people start noticing how tight our grids are?
A good place to start may be how we, the communicators, are educated. In a blog review of Steven Heller's Citizen Designer: Perspectives on Design Responsbility, the writer cites essays in the book that place the source of "apathy and a-politicism" in design schools and design education. He quotes an essay stating that design students are "sealed off from the world at large," locked into a "visual laboratory" that has been passed down from the Bauhaus and classic Basel school projects. Okay. So to correct this, we stop calling them computer "labs," because we're not scientists, and we start printing on the back of stuff, right? Yup. And Anne Bush, one of the essayists, has another idea. She has her students study the contrast between "intended meaning and response" in existing designs. From this, students may "recognize that meaning is always the result of a range of cultural and social negotiations and the designer is not the sole determinant, but rather a participant in these dialogues." (emphasis added).
Many others will cite a rigorous degree from a liberal education school, like the U of M, as the solution to raising designers' awareness. As students, we know that can be up for debate, considering it largely depends on how much effort we can and do put into these non-design classes. As a design community, we can take the responsibility upon ourselves - in classes, conversation, promotion - and become as fully aware of our impact as possible. Once we see where we fit into the big picture, we can better determine how to work our manipulation magic for some greater good. Compare the actual trajectory of our designs to our intended one, and see if we can't aim a little farther. Along the way, we can eat our vegetables and keep those grids sharp.