Social: March 2010 Archives

In the social realm, most everyone wants to reduce waste. People want to be green and help the environment, however companies are not always to do that and to a certain extent consumers know this. Yet some demand more from their companies in terms of environmental responsibilities when others are content with their person efforts. In my personal opinion, I believe that there are more important things we need to conquer socially, but with that said there is no need for unnecessary waste. I believe with splits in passions we can make the necessary steps toward our goals.

For example, although my overall passion is not for the benefit of the earth, it is necessary to have those that do to encourage those who are not passionate. For example design students of Los Angeles are creating a campaign to have residents switch to native plants on their properties in order to save on water. 60% of the residential water use was for up keep of their landscape. Now even if residents don't switch the design students have made a social impact on parts of Los Angeles. People discuss the campaign, families work harder on conserving their water use, and perhaps let the grass go without water for sometime. Although the overall goal was to have lawns switch to native plants not efforts were lost, by making this an issue that is discussed socially is moving towards the right steps. If the campaign is continued I believe it would benefit the society and the earth as a whole.

Although some companies are set in their ways, the earth has benefited from the push of environmentalists. The radicals set into motion a social movement of green. This caused companies to rethink their marketing and their product. Green and environmentally aware were more prominent with the public and companies were pressured to keep up. For example when people realized how much ink was being wasted in inkjet cartridges it created a social stir and caused the company to go back into the lab and find out how to fix it. It also started a wave a recycling cartridges. It changed how things were thrown away when printing.

Waste has become a big issue socially and it continues to have effect on environmental, social, financial, and personal issues. Each part sets into motion a continuous circle of improvement or failure. The issues effect each other. Website. World Changing 15 Apr. 2009. Web. Website. Half of Inkjet Printer Ink is Thrown Away. Web.

As designers, when you think about cost efficiency from a social perspective, what comes to mind? Twitter ? Facebook? Healthcare? From a purely cost effective and social standpoint, healthcare couldn't fit in any better. A quick look at the healthcare industry will show you how important cost effectiveness is, with the term Cost Effectiveness Analyais (CEA) - "the ratio of the cost of the intervention to a relevant measure of its effect" - popping up around every corner. And from a social point of view, especially at this point in time, healthcare could probably be considered one of the most significant social issues of today. Since the 2008 election, healthcare has been on the minds of a huge number of Americans. And with Obama's signing of the bill on Tuesday - essentially enacting one of the largest and most expansive pieces of legislation in history - the issue won't leave our minds any time soon. So it's pretty obvious that both cost effectiveness and social perspectives play a large role in defining healthcare, so the question for the rest of us would be: where does design fit in?

This question is a tough one for me to answer, after all I'm not a healthcare expert or even a professional designer. But I am a consumer, and my views on healthcare reflect the views of at least some other people out there. When I think of healthcare, I get a little scared. Being a type 1 diabetic, it's essential that I have good coverage for the medications that I need. The thing is, healthcare is advertised and marketed towards consumers as something thats incredibly boring, and for some, a little scary. While doing some research for this assignment, I came across this other blog called the Amino Lounge. It's written by Eric Hayward, a Creative Accounts Director at Grossman Design here in Minneapolis, and he had some really interesting things to say about the way healthcare is marketed and advertised:

" Of all the marketing messages consumers receive, those dealing with health care are arguably the most important. Weigh the social impact of a Cheesy Bacon BK Wrapper against news of life-saving technology or facilities. And yet, poor health is communicated far better to American consumers than is good health. It's not as if health is less interesting. Health does far more for your sex life, your family life, and your waistline than greasy pork and nicotine. Advertisers are just better at connecting these products, in consumers' minds, with the things they care about...

...Right now, we're stuck in a preachy, "apple-a-day" mentality. Thinking top-down, we start from a position of expertise held over the heads of all of you, unhealthy slobs that you are. The fundamental promise of health care is a "should"...Exercise more because you should. Eat better because you should. It's also, often, a negative. Take this and you won't get dandruff, heartburn, or worse."

The more I thought about what was mentioned there, the more I thought, "Wow, the guy's got a good point." The way that healthcare is marketed to the general public is almost pathetic - how does a smiling, silver-haired doctor or a happy sea-side jogger relate directly to ME? Truth is, they really don't. As Eric Hayward points out, they're just healthcare cliches that everyone is tired of seeing.

So how do we go about better marketing healthcare? Well for starters, let's throw out those cliche's out the window, and start with something fresh that most of us can actually relate to. As Eric Hayward says:

"We [advertisers] have gotten lazy. We keep dipping into the same pool of superficial generic images, forgetting to create new, better underlying stories. That's what advertising is: translating the brute reality of mere marketing into great stories that reach our hearts. If we put story first and details second, the better story will inform more relevant choices for the words, images and sounds that activate feeling and drive action. A better story is one connecting health care with personal desires for beauty and freedom, versus connecting it with morality. It's easy and convenient to recycle a preachy, "apple a day" storyline about what we should and shouldn't do as a cause for better health care. It's harder but better to appeal to human self interest, looking at the self-generated motivations consumer/patients identify as their own reasons to pursue better health care. If our own laziness as marketers is truly the culprit, guess what? Patients will get lazy too."

And the truth is, just because the healthcare bill has passed, that doesn't mean that all our healthcare problems are solved. It's still largely dependent on having the public care about their health - getting them to see the benefits of doing what's right instead of going to McDonald's or Burger King. As designers, we can play a part in connecting with people and getting them to actually care about healthcare. And if healthcare can be marketed and advertised in a way that helps accomplish that - where individuals take the step to take care of themselves a little more - we'll get much more mileage out of the healthcare system that we have, making this a little more cost effective for society.

1. The Amino Lounge (Everyone should read this blog in my opinion)

2. Primer on Cost Effective Analysis

After my last entry regarding the basics of copyrights, I received a request for more information regarding trademarks. I did some research on trademarks, and discovered that the difference between the two, and when to use a copyright versus a trademark wasn't all that clear. From a legal standpoint, both fall under the category of intellectual property law and are ways of protecting the rights to creative works.

To further clarify on my last post, copyrights are a form of protection for the authors of "original works of authorship," including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works. Copyright does not cover intellectual property such as titles, names, short phrases, and slogans, or even familiar symbols or designs, lettering, or coloring. When the subject matter is more intangible, trademarks are usually more suitable.

Under definition, a trademark protects a phrase, word, symbol or design that distinguishes one company (or even a person) from another. Memorable phrases like "Just Do It." are protected under a trademark. Or "Got Milk?". Trademarked. Even symbols, that seem to come up in everyday discussion like the apple logo, or the Coca-Cola logo, or even just the Coca-Cola name itself, are all trademarked.

Sometimes the line between trademarks and copyrights can cross. The more simple objects, such as the apple logo are trademarked and do not require a copyright. However, if apple were to do more of an ornate logo with a large amount of original authorship, the logo might qualify for a trademark and a copyright.

Once registered, the initial term for trademark protection is 10 years, however, with keeping up the proper maintenance and documentation, a trademark can remain in effect indefinitely. A copyright always has a fixed length based on the life of the creator +50 additional years. Trademarks are also more expensive than copyrights to register, costing about $375.

United States Patent and Trademark Office
eHow | Copyright and Trademark Laws
eHow | Copyright and Trademark Rules
AIGA | Trademark Basics for Graphic Designers

Hello bloggers, in my last blog I posted a link to the new Sunchips bag. The bag is 100% compostable. I talked about how it was a very noble and brave choice, and how other big name corporations should follow their example and could maybe even use their technology. Every one loves newer, smarter, more innovative technologies but there is more to making a greener planet than these kinds of solutions. Half the problem is us, the consumer. We are not doing our part to properly dispose biodegradable products.


As citizens of the most wasteful country, living on a damaged planet, it is our social responsibility to be smarter with our waste. If consumers aren't properly disposing organic materials anyway, what incentive does that give big companies to change their already successful ways? The Biodegradable Products Institute says that 68 million tons of waste being send to landfills is organic materials not being recycled or recovered. The EPA website states that, "Organic materials--comprised of yard trimmings, food scraps, wood waste, and paper and paperboard products--are the largest component of our trash and make up more than two-thirds of the solid waste stream."

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We must ask ourselves, should the finger really be pointed at the big corporations, or should it be pointed at the consumers? It also raises the question, what is the government doing to help? Back where I come from it is easy to recycle food scraps and yard trimmings with seemingly endless woodland and grassland surrounding my house. Here in the cities there seems to be no good place to put such waste. I feel the government should step in and provide and encourage compost bins of some sort, some alternative option to the trashcan. Sadly, our nation is all about convenience. If its not convenient for the consumer, they probably won't do it.


As designers in today's world recyclability is a hot button issue. There is a big list of things that seem to be important regarding recycling and "going green"; make everything more recyclable, make it so things have more than one use, make products that replace one-time use products. These now reusable items include things such as, shopping bags, water bottles and coffee sleeves. As we move into a "more green" consumer culture it is easy to assume that things are starting to look up. While this is true in some cases and there are incentives to using some of these reusable products, are we really recycling more? Are fewer items ending up in landfills that could have been recycled and/or reused?

I want to take this post to look at the social aspect of recycling. Have you ever thrown something into a recycling bin (plastic, cardboard, paper) and wondered if it actually gets recycled? Does your apartment building have a spot for recycled products? Have you wondered if they actually send these items to the appropriate places or if it just ends up in the same dumpster as all your garbage? I know that I have.

According to it takes quite a bit of effort to implement a recycling program in schools. They recommend involvement of students, teachers, administration and even parents. They also say that you need to "obtain top-level support from the school administration, your school district's operation and maintenance staff and your schools custodial staff." You have to select the items you'll recycle, where they will be recycled to, and establish a system for collecting the recycled items. Just looking at these few requirements it is easy to see how schools can have ineffective recycling programs or not have one at all. Programs for businesses require a similar amount of effort.

As designers it is important to know some of the logistics about recycling. We probably all know from experience how much paper we waste on proofs, misprints and reprints. Additionally we all use glass and plastic products as well as cardboard. We have old batteries, ink cartridges and other electronics that have safe ways to be recycled. When we're at home (whether and apartment or house) we should be aware of the recycling program in our building or city so that we can properly recycle or take items to a location where they will be recycled. Additionally it is important to know your place of business's recycling program. If you know what it takes to change or implement a recycling program we can easily influence our friends, family and place of business.

If you're looking to start a recycling program at a school or place of business these are some good links to get you started.

When thinking of the social aspects of convenience in design, I am immediately reminded of the Dead Kennedy's album "Give me convenience or give me death" (1). I always found this title amusing and true. Our society demands convenience, so much that we don't even realize how convenient the world has become. Many of the luxuries of our day to day lives are a result of convenient packaging design.

Over the last few decades, the world has exploded with new, innovative packaging. Just take a look at The Die Line (2). This site is a blog of endless, beautiful, creative packaging. Many of the items we refer to as "great" not only because they are aesthetically pleasing but because they make our lives just a little easier -- a re-sealable bag, a twist off cap. We have become so used to these new ways of packaging that its hard to even remember what it was like to have to tap the end of a ketchup bottle.

Not all aspects of current packaging techniques are positive. Much of this packaging, while convenient is not always the most environmentally friendly. In Nathan's 3m lecture (3), he spoke of the vicious cycle of packaging. He explained that most of the time the packaging that society likes is the type that hurts us the most. Many times packaging is oversized and un-biodegradable. It's tough to change packaging when the current techniques are often the cheapest options for companies.

Its a tough decision for companies to switch to environmentally friendly packaging. They risk the welfare of their product with every and any change. Companies like Sun Chips have found a good way of making their packaging green, maintaining convenience and also staying true to their brand (4). Society is not going to quit demanding convenience. Designers, manufacturers and companies must place a larger emphasis on inventing new, environmentally friendly ways to meet these demands.

3.Nathan from 3m, Sen Seminar Lecture, 3.23.10


What we remember from the 2008 Summer Olympics held in Beijing, China is not the design or the labor put into this extravagant event, but the world cheering for Michael Phelps who broke the record for gold medals (and smokin' a bong), Usain Bolt who was titled, "World's Fastest Man" and the amazing opening and closing ceremonies featuring a cast of over 15,000 performers! But, what about behind the scenes? What about the people of China? Did anyone consider their social well being?

As a society, we tend to ignore the implicit costs taken to achieve our desires. As designers, we must constantly challenge ourselves to make sure what we are designing is done with integrity towards the environment and the social well-being of our society. As far as designers are concerned, to what degree are they held socially responsible for their work? Oftentimes when a new design is introduced we are mesmerized by its beauty and function and tend to be distracted from reality. During the construction of the Bird's Nest Olympic Stadium, many people in China were displaced and parts of their history were destroyed to show...what? That they are innovators of design? Who cares if we are treating others poorly to get what we want? Right? Let's look at reality here and realize that the majority of people who helped build the stadium were not fairly paid or treated well.

In the video linked below, a designer named Ai Wei Wei speaks about how the stadium and the Olympics were affecting China poorly. He describes that the appearance of the Olympics is, "Far away from reality" and that Beijing holds so much history, but it is being turned into shopping malls and parks (3). He uses words such as "fake" and "pathetic" while he explains that China is not all fun and games, but rather attempting to impress western countries by demolishing many historical sights paving the way for modernization. (for some reason this wasn't linking--so copy and paste it into your browser if you want!)

With little to no restriction on costs and innovation, designers were able to use their talents to do something big! Something people were going to see. Something so glamorous and glitzy and FUN! Who cares if we're using 400 million dollars to build a stadium? Let's do it! Who cares if we only pay each worker $150 a month? It'll be great! Who cares if we treat people like shit and don't acknowledge their history!? Everything will be grand! Let's fill China's smoke with sunshine for a couple weeks and create huge buildings designed so people can run around and play games! SOUNDS GREAT.

As designers, we must learn to embrace the need for social responsibility and take charge! For designing to be fun, we need to stay true to our beliefs and realize when things seem unethical and determine a sense of what is right and wrong. In the book Good by Lucienne Roberts, she states, "Graphic designers don't usually dictate content, but they can decide whether they work for clients who are communicating something "good" for society" (1). In other words, an artist with morals should not feel satisfied with his or her work if others have to suffer in order to create his or her design. It's unethical.

So although designing something with little restrictions seems like fun and a dream come true, think again. The people may see the designer as someone who supports terrible labor conditions, or as someone who supports the attempt to hide the true realities of the poverty stricken Chinese culture. But again all of this poses many questions. Who is having the fun here? The Olympians...visitors...the world....designers...China's people? From a designer's perspective, each person holds morals that are unique. What someone considers a crime can be a misdemeanor to another. I believe that each designer should take each job as it comes and make the decision for themselves. Every design comes with a risk and each person defines fun differently. It just so happens that in this instance of the Chinese Olympics, it's somewhat bittersweet fun.



Lastly--Check out these links. Within the last few months I visited the Walker Art Center and the Zhao Liang: Heavy Sleepers exhibition was up.

This is the description:

"An acute exposition of social realities in China, Zhao's large-scale video environment depicts the interior of a dormitory for construction workers. One side of the space shows sleeping men; the other, a row of empty beds. Walking through, the visitor is immersed in simple scenes illustrating the sacrifices made by China's laborers, as the slow, unyielding camera pan reveals telling personal details. Shot in Beijing during the fast-paced construction leading up to the 2008 Olympics, the empty beds raise the question of whether the men have gone back to work, or finally returned home."



4423533852_3fe0fcb9d1.jpg (more photos of the video) (description/link to gallery talk with artist, again copy and paste)

1) Roberts, Lucienne. Good. Retrieved from: Class Syllabus. Web. 24 Mar. 2010.

2) "Zhao Liang: Heavy Sleepers."

3) Interview with Ai Wei Wei:

Building off of my last post on this blog, I feel like I should discuss the substantial effect that design can have on a society's mores and outlook. In the last post, I discussed how every aspect of an object or concept's design has an impact on our state of mind and how that impact can be either subtle or profound. This concept translates in a similar manner when we consider a design's effect on the health of society in general. 

  The idea of using specific designs to influence a society is by no means a new one -- I would even venture to say that most people are well aware of this concept by now. The historical examples of this are numerous. Take, for instance, the use of posters during WWI and WWII to influence civilian's sympathies. Nearly every government involved in the war commissioned well-respected artists to design patriotic and informational posters that were designed with specific goals in mind. The image of Uncle Sam pointing at the observer in James Montgomery Flagg's I Want You series is a prime example of design that influences opinion. While this poster's message was fairly direct, its persuasive technique was subtle. Like many propaganda posters of the era, the piece was designed to look like a movie poster in order to attract young men. Additionally, the depiction of Uncle Sam pointing straight out at the observer was designed to have a psychological effect on the viewer. The posters released during this war were thought to have been extremely effective -- in fact, many of those responsible for publishing them had conflicting feelings about their effect after the war. Harold Lasswell, a prominent political scientist of the era who worked with the government to disseminate propaganda, later expressed a cynical view about propaganda's power:

When all allowances have been made, and all extravagant estimates pared to the bone, the fact remains that propaganda is one of the most powerful instrumentalities in the modern world...A newer and subtler instrument [will] weld thousands and even millions of human beings into one amalgamated mass of hate and will and hope. A new flame [will] burn out the canker of dissent and temper the steel of bellicose enthusiasm. The name of this new hammer and anvil of social solidarity is propaganda. (1)
  It wasn't very long before the commercial world took notice of the power of design when mass-distributed. For most of the industrial revolution up to about WWII, factories had pushed out massive amounts of a relatively small variety of products and businesses began to realize that perhaps the market was getting saturated with the goods that were viewed as "essential". In order to sell products, manufacturers needed to convince the public that they needed new goods. Instrumental in bringing this task to front was Sigmund Freud's nephew, Edward Bernays. Bernays had studied the Nazi's powerful propaganda campaigns during the war and wrote a seminal book on the subject called propaganda. In this book, he stated that "[people] are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of." (2) Bernays believed not only that a populace could be manipulated by designed campaigns, but that they should be, in order to control the baser tendencies of society that are fueled by our "animal instincts". Bernays believed that society could be somewhat pacified through the purchase of material comforts, and he set himself to the task of restructuring how products are sold. Bernays has been largely credited with the creation of the "integrated campaign" for advertising by tying many forms of media and marketing together to sell a single product (he called the campaigns "tie-ins"). Bernays also pioneered the use of focus groups to sell products. The result of his considerable efforts was effectively a shift in how society interacted with products. No longer were products defined by those who bought them. Now, people were defined by the products they bought. If you were a greaser, you bought a leather jacket. Are you a Ford guy or a Chevy guy? What brand of make-up do you prefer? Bernays largely succeeded in shifting the role of products in our lives by designing the identity of a product to appeal to the psyche of individual groups of consumers.
  So, we have established that design, and the marketing surrounding design can have an extremely profound influence on society. This begs the question of how best to utilize this power. In concurrence with my last blog, I think that designers have the potential to utilize this influence for positive purposes. In fact, there are entire organizations based on this principle. One prominent example is the International Academy for Design and Health. This organization's goal is to "promote the stimulation and application of research concerning the interaction between design, health, science, and culture."(3) This organization believes that the success and happiness of society can be greatly influenced by environmental design, and there are precedents that support this claim. While our public housing projects built here in America turned largely into crime-ridden, squalid residential areas, similar projects in Sweden have turned into thriving communities. The difference was largely in the design, and promotion of these areas.
  Suffice it to say, we wield considerable influence on society through the power of design, and there are exciting developments on the horizon that utilize this influence to improve the quality of life on this planet.

(1) Lasswell, Harold "Propaganda Technique in the World War." 1927, MIT Press, pp. 220-221
(2) Bernays, Edward L. "Propaganda." Liverwright Press, 1928, p. 72
(3) The International Academy of Design and Health, ""

The definition of words is often the starting point when one is researching. The base of the argument could be within the definition of the phrases used. When taking a look at Empowerment and Social Responsibility in design, this idea provides an excellent base for showing how broad and problematic this issue can really be.

"Empowerment refers to increasing the spiritual, political, social or economic strength of individuals and communities. It often involves the empowered developing confidence in their own capacities" (Wikipedia). One can take this idea in any direction. Empowering can provide a great structure for bringing people together. If you take a look at any political campaign, empowerment is used to reach out and give clarity and structure to people's beliefs. The Obama campaign is a perfect example of success in empowerment. Take a look at this wonderfully written article on Obama's website:

This shows that there is strength in empowerment that can provide a base for many other things. You can provide open opinions on whatever subject you feel necessary; all you need is a method and some empowerment. Someone or something to tell you that you can and should express your opinions is often just the start.

"Design is the planning that lays the basis for the making of every object or system" (Wikipedia). Design in and of itself is empowerment. Whether one chooses to use that empowerment for good or for bad is another story. As designer, we are entitled (or even better, empowered) with the skill set to provide empowerment to others. We are also provided with the knowledge to persuade and inform visually and verbally. As you take all of these things in, think about how well empowerment and design have been paired, because soon I will be showing you how empowerment and design have paired to form some disastrous results.

So when I thought of the word appeal in reference to society I immediately thought, sex appeal. Maybe I'm immature but I think that kind of appeal that the media has fabricated has had an extreme effect on societies views of reality in every sense. Sex sells and graphic design and advertising have capitalized on this notion.

Sex is so enticing because it has been deemed taboo, which according to Sex Appeal: the art of allure in graphic and advertising design‬ By Steven Heller, is the prime instrument for attracting the public. Sex has been in the mainstream media for quite sometime. Heller mentions that "In print, the many versions of this basic theme culminated in the pinup in the 30's, which served as a generic advertising enticement" also goes on to say that "to this day commercial sex appeal still stems from the pinup paradigm" and basically there is nothing like a hot babe to get a man's attention. Before photography came to the forefront in advertising many of these advertisements, book covers, movie posters where done by painters and illustrators. As years passed the public's morals and views shifted and they demanded something racier. The public wanted something more real so photography became popular and real life models where exposed, things became more provocative and here we are today.


Sex appeal has become a part of everyday life in our society. We look up at a billboard and a bronzed babe with a photo-shopped bod is glistening in the hot sun and fake sweat beads are pooling up around her breasts. At bus stops shirtless men with muscles (that most men don't even know exist, sorry guys) are standing there staring at you as you wait. Sex appeal is no longer mysterious as it was in the 30's. In fact, speaking of no longer mysterious the other day I was sitting across from a man in a coffee shop that was looking at porn on his computer as if he was just reading a regular news article and sipping his coffee. So what does this say about our society, that sex is so out in the open that we feel it's ok to look at porn anywhere? Sex appeal is part of our lives weather we love seeing it or hate seeing it. It sells underwear, perfume, beer, cigarettes, movies, magazines...everything.

Heller states, "commercial sex appeal has value if for no other reason then it stimulates the economy, and the economy is the life force of the republic." He goes on to say "that by this logic, sex appeal is not pornographic until or unless the public stomps it's common foot and finds it intolerable. By extension, overt sexual display is as necessary to a healthy economy as intermittent hikes in the prime interest rate."
American Apparel ad, what's with the girl on the left?

Believe me I am not an advocate for hot sweaty photo shopped bodies in magazines, on the Internet or in movies but we all must agree that this kind of appeal has been lucrative. Now I ask, how has commercial sex appeal affected society? Well lets start with the positive: it's helped the economy (which we can all agree needs a booster) other then that not too much else. Perhaps it's inspired some people get into better shape but most likely it's just made people feel bad about their bodies, which brings us to the negative aspects of commercial sex appeal on society. Considering that commercial sex appeal spawned from a time when women were only being seen as objects and treated as objects, it obviously doesn't come from a good place. The media has designed an ideal body type that is basically unfathomable to the rest of public. Although maybe we are at a point where we are so bombarded by these images that we aren't as shocked or effected by them, but in actuality we still always are, especially if designers continue to come up with new and inventive ways to sell sex.

Concerning us as designers, we need to think about these things, how are we contributing to societies views and understanding of reality? If we choose to use sex as our medium is it possible for it to be in a positive light? Can we use sex appeal in different and new ways? In response to the last question I think we can use sex appeal in interesting ways, for example objects can be sexy or have sex appeal, like cars or sleek new gadgets. We can also suggest sex without even showing a visual (is that ok? There are probably people that would disagree). But you get the idea, it is possible to be innovative with sex, since as designers we do know that it's intriguing but we also know the importance of being thoughtful (at least I hope we do).

I am ending this blog with one more quote from Heller, just to get us to continue to think about this topic.

"The publics fascination with sex and the graphic and advertising designer's acceptance of it as a potent tool have fed each other for the run of the twentieth century. But the public has always been divided on lengths to which sexuality can and should be used to sell, if at all. Polarization between right and left, conservatives and liberals, religious and non-religious is not new to American culture, but the dissenters seem to be more vociferous then ever, which begs the question: How have designers contributed to this schism? Since sex appeal continues to motivate, stimulate, and exacerbate this ongoing debate, designers must take more then a modicum of responsibility for how and why sex sells."

Heller, Steven. Sex Appeal: the Art of Allure in Graphic and Advertising Design. New York: Allworth, 2000. Print.

Empowerment/ Social

The word empowerment literally means to enable or to give authority to. But the technical meaning doesn't express its true definition. The Journal of Extension did a study on the word's meaning, and concluded that it is a process that you experience when something makes you think about how things are and how they could be (1). When design is so powerful that it activates a change that holistically improves one's life, that is an expression of empowerment. Because of design's influential affect on society, it is we as designers who have the choice to clearly deliberate our message. Through our design we carry the tools to inspire people to fully understand their cycle of influence they have on others. Design, which ultimately turns into actions can shape cultures, communities and families.

Awareness and concern of our lives and how we live them should really be our first priority right? With a lot of people, what they don't know doesn't concern them. Even people's daily purchases carry heavy responsibilities. Whether you buy food from your local co-op or from your local Wal-Mart, your choice furthers a cycle of good or bad events down the line. We as humans need to be aware of how our actions affect other people, even if we don't know them. Design and its ability to communicate must empower people to think, and not just buy. Because our world is not nearly as simple as it used to be, even companies who sell the most simple of necessities cut corners with their materials and production, and ethically crash and burn. Designers need to be socially aware of the corners and with our design, try to create something better. Many organizations believe in this design strategy, and the design collaborative database Good is one of them. This database highlights community design all stars, non- profits and humanitarian design (2). There is a lot of empowering design in the world; you just have to find it.

Social responsibility in design is becoming more prevalent, as a reaction to today's age of state controlled existences, and invasion of privacy (3). Due to the wide array of mediums messages can be spread today, designers are becoming more aware of their power, while two extremes of communicative control and liberation in design are beginning to emerge. Many design firms are trying to create products that spread awareness of today's social and environmental issues. For example, the British design firm &made's Either Oar table acts as both a well designed table that also assembles into a raft and oars, addressing the dangers of global warming and our affect on it. Designers need to engage in a socially responsible practice that empowers the people and defends the idea of solutions, not set backs. Because today could be expressed as a moral depression, a designer's first priority should really lie in the true content of their message.


On today's episode of Oprah (3/3/10), Lisa Ling travels around the world searching for what "beauty" means to people of different nations. In China she steps foot into the world's first Barbie store located in Shanghai. She speaks to two Chinese girls (ages 8 and 9) and asks which ones they like the most. Without hesitation they both point to a Caucasian doll. Lisa asks if they would buy a Chinese doll, the girls reply 'No, we like the blue eyes'. So what does this have to do with design? A closer look allows for plenty of interpretations but one cannot deny the impact that design has made, whether directly or unconsciously, to people's ideals of the world and their surroundings.

China is a wonderful example to use to show how the media/design can impact the views and beliefs of people and children. In the last decade China has opened its' doors to the outside world and seen a drastic change especially when it comes to the world of "beauty". 10 years ago "every man, woman and child was required to dress in masculine, military-style uniforms. Any display of femininity - like long hair, makeup or jewelry - was strictly forbidden. If a woman broke the rules, she faced severe punishment." Today, beauty is the fourth-biggest industry in China. Dr. Sun Baoshan, a plastic surgeon at Ninth People Hospital, one of the nation's largest hospital, states "Four years ago, we had 30,000 surgeries per year here, but last year we had 40,000 cosmetic surgeries at this hospital alone. This year it will be 50,000." He also states that one of the most in demand procedure is the eyelid reshaping surgery, "which reshapes the smaller Asian eyelid into a larger, more Western shape."

Children grow up looking up to their parents. We see how they learn what is acceptable and what isn't based on their parent's beliefs. So with 50,000 Chinese adults getting cosmetic surgery at one hospital to look more "western", it is no surprise that Chinese children of today grow up believing that the "western" look is ideal and attractive. I mean the adults around them are striving to achieve that look right? So to a child's mind, that look is what is needed to be beautiful. This not only stands alone in China, but we've seen how the western world itself has conflictions within its' own society as models and entertainers are seen everywhere and being compared to.

So what role does a designer play in this issue? Ultimately, it is a client's decision as to who and what is needed to promote a product but one can argue that it is the designer who creates what "beauty" is. Design plays a bigger role in society, even when it comes to children, then we think. It's like a domino effect. A client wants to sell something, a designer designs it, the adult population takes in the information that is being handed to them then make decisions based on their interruptions and lastly, a child looks to the adults of his/her world and molds their views to agree with them. One has to question, if the Chinese media wasn't so bombarded with Western looks, would those young girls be more willing to buy Chinese dolls?

Oprah episode on 3/3/10

Awareness can be summarized as perception, feelings or a sense of understanding (1). Awareness is central to the role that designers play, as we are constantly trying to inform, sway and connect with our audience. Awareness has other correlations however. It can serve in both the financial realm of marketing a product or service, as well as the ethical realm in the form of personal and social knowledge.

When looking critically at awareness, we can realize that it is one of the steps towards bringing change (2.) Individuals need to be made knowledgeable about a topic before they can become enticed to act on it. The question then is how do we as designers bring social issues into the public consciousness. As professional communicators, we can use our considerable visual voice to draw attention to issues or proponent groups of these issues.

Past and current examples of the awareness brought about by design are numerous. One example can be seen during the AIDS crisis in the 1990's. What started off as ignorance, exploded into a public panic, and later, much misconception. Graphic designers and artists created emotionally connective campaigns featuring education, prevention and hope (3.) These campaigns hoped to use stirring images to put a human face on the crisis and ease people into knowledge and away from fear.
(Keith Haring, 1989.)

This tradition of designer as AIDS informer can be seen today in the Product(RED) campaign. Product(RED) is the teaming-up of various retail centers who offer specially branded products who's proceeds go to support the African AIDS crisis. Throughout this campaign, a hip and engaging logo as well as trendy and bold design work brings attention to the African AIDS movement, as well as Product(RED) merchandise that supports the cause.

Being inspired by these powerful awareness campaigns is easy. These designers both past and present created a strong connection between the viewer/consumer and the message, forcing us to think about issues we might otherwise ignore. The real question is what is stopping us from using our talents in communication and our visual voice to a larger degree?

1.) Mirriam-Webster Online

2.) "Why Change Happens: Ten Reasons,"

3.) AIDS Prevention (1988-1990)

Social competitiveness is one of the most important motivators in our classes today. Without competition I feel the work produced in our classes wouldn't be as thoughtful or distinguished as we are putting out now. An immediate example is the 'o-tern' internship at Olson Advertising firm downtown. Two designers for Olson spoke in our Portfolio class a few weeks ago, and invited us all to apply for the internship program they are offering this summer. I know of at least 4 classmates are applying for the program, as well as myself, and as much as I love them, I so badly want to get the position over them. The social competition is driving my want/need to do well, and succeed in my application process.

I discovered a yearlong study done by the Korea Institute of Design assessing "competitiveness among countries" and I found the whole study interesting how they found a way to assess competitiveness among countries. They assessed public, industrial and civilian design sectors. In general, more developed countries did better than underdeveloped economies. I feel that the United States often looks to Europe for advice, and that European counties often are "better" than the US in health, style, and design and according to this study, the United States better step up it's design abilities in order to stay in competition with Europe.

Good, healthy competition is good for everyone, but especially designers. As practiced so often in design firms to 'win' a client in the original project presentation, we are competing against other firms and our peers in a healthy way. AIGA often holds design competitions to help emerging, current, and excelling designers get their names out there and make their work seen by other professionals and admirer.

     Posting, sharing, uploading practically any sort of content on the web is a risky decision. With hundreds of millions of people around the world using the Internet every day, there is no doubt that thieves of every age, race, or gender, will get their hands on copyright material and either call it their own, use them for profit, or distribute in several means without consent or permission. It shouldn't be a surprise that most of these materials are consisted of video media, photographs, and all kinds of designed work from website layouts, to pieces of art, to even images that are part or from a designer's portfolio item. What is being done to prevent these web robberies, how does it affect us, and where does society draw the line?

    The most stolen piece of art on the web are images and, people like photographers, have started to imprint their photos with watermarks to prevent these problems. Designers of all sorts have also started to watermark their works. However, as a man named Robert in his blog said (, this does not stop places like "Chinese clone shops from helping themselves." Not just that, but anyone could ultimately reproduce or make their own hand copy of your exact work, even if your image is watermarked and reduced to a very low quality jpeg. Because designers, artists, photographers, and even writers and filmmakers, have begun to think more critically about this dangerous security issue, they have also turned into making some of their works more private as well by using Premium-member websites or limiting the way to obtain them.

    But there are no cops online. One way or another, many people find their way around web barriers. When this happens, the unfortunate ones that had work stolen from them are doomed to either never even realize it or one day they'll find out and then they have to go through an entire legal process to fix it if they care enough to do it. The hard work artists and designers put into their pieces is reproduced, copied, or simply stolen and used freshly without their consent. Even works that are based on your work can be considered a copyright infringement, as explained by the senior editor of, Brian Sherwin. Somewhere, someone out there, is getting away with other people's works in their portfolio, selling pirated movies, games, and e-books, or illegally using a photographer's images to create their own work.

   Where then, does society draw the line? It depends because most of us are guilty for illegally downloading a song, a movie, or even an e-book. However, it's a different situation than stealing the other form of mediums. Most of that most don't generate profit from those files, nor do they post it publicly on the web for others to access. It can be said that it's just one of the imperfect and unrestrained human nature to try to obtain some things for free. Stealing is stealing, but society's opinion on drawing the line for stealing music and movies is very thin only because we all do it. Although there is no exact answer, it could also be said society does draw a thicker line when it comes to being dishonest and to the unmorally attempts to copy and sell online content maybe because we're all possible victims and of course, we're not on a million-dollar salary such as movie producers and singers. But that's another issue. 

    In the end, though, of course designers, writers, and all kinds of other artists, are at risk at all times no matter what they do to prevent web robberies. But the fact that the Internet is so large can go both ways: millions of people are actively browsing the web, and one may be lucky to be well known enough to the point where someone will stumble upon a copyright infringement of their work and then thus be told about it. The "online society," which is consisted of everyone that ever uses the Internet in the world, has to basically look out for each other.


Before this blog, I'd never heard the term "Third Age". I actually had to go look up the definition. I learned that "Third Age" is a term for the retired or elderly phase of a person's life. I guess you learned something new everyday.

But beyond the definition; what is the Third Age really about?
There's the good parts... Being retired (hopefully). The kids are out of the house. More freetime. A busier social life. Time to pick up hobbies. Spoiling the grandkids. And getting a sweet discount at Perkins. :)
But there's also the not-so-good parts... Less energy? Failing eyesight? Arthritis? Getting sick? Trouble getting around? Living alone?

A huge chunk of the population (the Baby Boomers--our parents) approaching their Third Age during next few decades. This means that the issues they face, the ways their lives change, and things they need/want will become a huge priority. And in many cases their changing lives, problems, and needs will be the job of the working generation--our generation--to address.

So now... how does this relate to design?

Well, a big part of it will be learning to design for people with physical problems that come with age. This includes problems like poor vision, mobility, and motor functions. Right now, designing to accommodate or ease these problems isn't the biggest priority. It seems to be more an act of kindness, rather than a requirement. It also seems to only be addressed in settings where it's really necessary (like nursing homes, hospitals, ect.) But when all the baby boomers have reached that age, it will become a priority. The number of people over the age of 65 is going to double in the next 25 years. Both for social reasons and economic reasons, design will need to keep up with them. (But I'll save the economic ones for another blog post.)

For example, I found an article that talked about design typography for people with vision impairments. I know many of us designers love our delicate, small point-size type. Well, that's a big no-no. Colored type on a colored background? No way. Italic type? Not so wise. Pretty, decorative typefaces? Don't even think about it. We as designers are going to have to realize we won't always have the luxury of making it pretty. We'll have to make it work.

Another article made a really interesting point. This generation probably isn't going to handle being "old" the way previous generations did. They're going to demand something much more stylish than your grandma's chunky, black orthopedic shoe. You know the ones I mean. They're not so stylish. And the baby-boomers won't think so either. So not only will they need design to meet their needs, they need design that is just as impressive as the stuff for the younger folks. Because of their sheer numbers, they'll be able to demand it. And if companies still want baby-boomer dollars rolling in, they'll need to have good-looking, quality, well-designed Third Age design flowing out.

But in almost all cases, designs that make information and products accessible Third Age individuals will make them more accessible to everyone. For example, OXO Good grips were designed for people with arthritis. But their ergonomic design made them easier to everyone to use. And because they're so attractively designed, today they're even used by professional chefs and can be found in almost every kitchen. So in lots of cases, the emphasis on good design for the Third Age will result in good design for everyone.

So start thinking about design for the Third Age.



Aries Arditi, Ph.D. Designing for People with Partial Sight.

Product Design for the Elderly.

A website all about design for people with vision impairments.

As graphic designers, we can also be considered visual communicators. The way we use color, type, and the images we create or manipulate all contribute to the visual representation of an idea or message we are communicating. When considering my term, disability, the first thing I thought of was designing for the visually impaired. So often we consider the readability and legibility of a our designs by carefully selecting a readable size for the typography, making sure the color of the typeface in relation to the background is easy to read, and so on and so forth. But what about those who are partially and completely visually impaired?

In our society, a lot of information is conveyed by sight. Information is often graphic which raises the question, how does it work for people with sensory disabilities? Do blind people have access to visual information? Although they have access to the written culture, thanks to braille, how does it work with images?
This question was the starting point of a research project carried out within eyewear company Alain Mikli International ( This project has the following industrial objectives: conceive an exhibition of modern and contemporary paintings for visually-impaired people inside a French museum. The statement "Do not touch" is very common within art museums, making the works on display only available to visually sighted people. To make museums accessible to people with visual disabilities, tactile visits, targeting visually impaired, are organized. Tactile visits make the works visual information accessible by touch by exploring the original works, or their reproductions, tactile maps, scale models, and tactile pictures. Before Alain Miklis' exhibition was implemented, the pictorial works were presented verbally by a lecturer, thus bringing the visually-impaired audience and museum a new mediation tool. By expanding its' accessibility, the museum shows that accessibility for people with disabilities is a current social issue. While this was great for Mikli to provide in a French museum, more commonly, visually impaired people must rely solely on verbal communication to experience the visually communicated world.

Since it is not feasible to translate our designs into tactile pictures for those who are completely blind, what is our social responsibility for making our designs accessible for the visually impaired?
In "Designing for People with Partial Sight", an article by Aries Arditi, Ph.D., basic guidelines for making effective legibility choices that work for nearly everyone are laid out. (Designing for People with Partial Sight) Many of these guidelines are rules that we are all well aware of and have been taking into consideration when making all of our design considerations. Personally, I think more about these guidelines after acknowledging the age range of my target audience. I think it is very common to think of increasing the size of our typography when a design is going to be viewed by older people but I can never think of a time we we've talked about taking visually impaired people, who come in all ages, into consideration. Say we are working for a client who likes a decorative purple font on a glossy black background; all things that decrease the legibility for visually impaired people. Is it our social responsibility as designers to step in and change the design completely, changing the entire look and feel to make is more accessible to everyone? I think that currently, it is socially accepted that visually impaired people won't be able to read everything, thus not often being a large consideration in the design process. That is not to say that designers aren't constantly thinking about the legibility of their work, but there are definitely design decisions that trump adhering to the limited guidelines which make documents accessible to the visually impaired.

While some companies, like Mikli, are taking action to make visual arts accessible to the visually impaired, it seems as though it is an issue not commonly addressed. The majority of people we design for can see fine but considering the visually impaired is something we should also take into consideration. Whether this be our social responsibility as designers, or the social responsibility of the client we are working for- I'm not sure, but I think it is important that we use our design knowledge to bring awareness to this issue when critiquing and finalizing a design which can hopefully be accessible by people visual disabilities.

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This page is an archive of entries in the Social category from March 2010.

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