5 Social Design Tips
“Design a solution for everyone involved and not just an individual”.
18th March 2017 - Design for Need , Social Design Tips
By Matt McClumpha
Whether you are designing the latest perpetual motion lighting or environmentally friendly clothing; here are Design for Need’s 5 social design tips we have taken from our own experience that could help you. If you are unsure of what social design is or would like to know more, please check out our previous article: ‘What is Social Design?’.
1. Keep it simple, stupid
Keep it simple, stupid, also referred to as K.I.S.S, is reflected in all great designs, from a mug to a jet engine. Although simplicity can lead to greater user experience, it is important to realise that it should not interfere with the primary design goal. As Albert Einstein said: "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler."
For example, a smartphone is far simpler than a DSLR camera however it does not offer more options for the photographer. Both designs have considered the users expectations and removed complexity where it exists for its own sake, thus simplifying the design. Within social design, this principle should always be considered to bring the best possible user experience to the solution.
This tip was briefly talked about in our previous article: ‘What is Social Design’. There we discussed how a smartphone can be extremely useful at home, however useless while on top of a mountain. Just because the smartphone works well in one particular context, this does not mean it will work well in another. Social designing is all about being mindful of the community you are designing for.
A good way to get a basic understanding of the context, is to use the ‘5W1H’ method (Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How). To use this method, simply take one of the questions, either at random or with a more particular purpose in mind and ask it of the situation. For example if you are organising a office party you might ask; ‘Why are we having it? How much will it cost? What music do people like? Who will come?’ and so on. By asking all of these questions you quickly begin to gain a idea of the context and the bigger picture.
Here at ‘Design for Need’ we cannot get enough of sustainability, it’s our bread and butter. In order to create a sustainable design we need to first consider the social, economic and environmental impact of the potential solution. Ignoring just one of these principles can lead the solution to failure.
For example, when choosing the appropriate material for the solution, you may pick something which is very cheap (economic) and locally available (social), however the material produces toxic gases during manufacturing (environmental). Although the solution may succeed for a short period, the long-term impacts of this material will harm people's health. It is important to be holistic when design a product, what will happen to it when it breaks? Will it simply be thrown away or could there be a better use?
This may sound obvious but being able to communicate clearly is crucial for project work, without communication the overall efficiency of a project will be affected and any vital progression may stop altogether, leaving both parties with nothing. Through good communication you start to build trust with your end-user, collaborators and work colleagues, this is essential to achieving the goal and maintain strong working relationships.
When communicating, ensure that you choose your medium carefully, for many, face to face interaction is the best way to build trust, however this is not always an option. Furthermore, distance or a language barrier can hinder communication, however there are many other options to ensure your message is clear and accessible, such as email, facetime/skype or infographics. Make sure to keep everyone involved as well, keeping all line of communication open, encouraging updates and reports. Finally, remember that even when the challenge is may seem too tough, be transparent and tell the truth to those you are working with, making excuses or choosing not to express yourself at all can be extremely counterproductive for a partnership.
5. Listen and Learn
Linking to communication is listening. It’s all very well and good that your message is understood and heard but what about the people you are talking to; communication is a two-way process. Listening shows respect and allows you to learn and resolve any issues your project may encounter, this is critical to the design process.
By listening to the end users and gaining an understanding of what they truly need, you can directly learn from them what the ideal solution could be. At the end of the day, the product will end up in their hands, so don’t let tunnel vision arrogance take hold of you. It’s important to realise that no design is ever perfect, not even the latest Tesla. By being open to criticism you can drastically improve the design piece by piece. By doing so it’s no longer designed by an individual but as a collective, a solution for everyone involved and not just an individual.
We hope you enjoyed the article. In fact, if you want to want to learn more about Social Design, we offer a form of consultancy through our activity of ‘Advising’. Here as experts in sustainable design for international development, we will teach, collaborate and raise awareness. Organisations that would be interested in these services can range from individuals, educational institutes, charities and/or companies who wish to branch out into wider markets. We are non-profit organisation but what we offer is a paid service, all profits made will be used to facilitate project work. By filling in a contact form detailing your circumstances and your interest in the service, we will respond with a quote and further details on what we can offer you.
When I’m not designing our latest innovation or working on our website, I occasionally like to write blogs. Whether it be about our project work abroad, designing for international development or even a selection of intriguing puzzles for you to solve.