The Social Impact of Design

We use hundreds of products in our daily life. Right from the furniture we use to the clothes we wear to the accessories that make us beautiful, the products we use are a mix of things manufactured locally or internationally. Have you ever thought of the social impact that using a product design could be making? Do you believe it is possible to connect an artisan in a far-flung area with an upwardly-mobile urban household?

Responsible design is the latest news and a much-needed philosophy these days. And when you think about it, it does make sense. A design comes out of a need for change. Rather than looking at the superficial aspect of change, one can go a little deeper and make this change to make the world a better place. A good designer can empower a marginalized or exploited section in the society, and bring a change to so many lives!

Take the humble bamboo for example. It has always been ignored, or looked down upon in the lot of construction amongst the heavier woods and metals. But just a little research will bring forth examples of people rethinking bamboo’s role beyond the scaffolding in construction. Bamboo is now being utilized as an eco-friendly substitute for wood, steel, iron steel and plastic. One might not have thought it possible, but you will find several low-cost bamboo shelters and prefabricated bamboo housing, with the houses being wind, fire, water and earthquake proof. The designers here are playing a crucial role as economic drivers for providing sustainable livelihood opportunities to rural and tribal communities dependent on bamboo for livelihoods.

Clothing and accessories are another opportunity for bringing together design and community. Whether it is terracotta jewelry or handloom items or any other hand-crafted item, you have an abundance of beauty merged with its social impact. A lot of designers go out of their way to get the artisans from various states involved in the process of crafting these pieces. Each of these artisans brings something unique to the table, and as a result, the product is much sought after. Each piece that sells brings prosperity to the artisan’s family and a renewed confidence in her mind that can only come from a job well done.

Without this collaboration, the real purpose of design will be defeated. When the designers choose their collaborators, they are making a choice to bring a change to the society. They are ready for accepting failure – after all, failure only brings more knowledge and insights into what will work and what won’t. And the failing gives the designer the empathy to understand the pains of the artisans or craftspeople.  They learn to take risks, learn from one another and try something completely new. And when you have such synergy, everyone is a winner – the designer, the artisan and the consumer.

When you look at it holistically, you realise that a designer is an artist, not just because he is creating the art that meets the eye, but because he creates the balance that holds it all up. The balance between beauty and utility, aesthetics and function are a part of the deal without saying, but what really takes a designer one notch higher is when his designs are inclusive – when they create something that draws out a commonality between the artisans and the consumer who does not hesitate to pay the right amount for the piece he deserves.

The designer here is instrumental in challenging a craftsman to push his limit, to see the possible, and to evolve with the times. After all, that’s what the social impact of design is.

Hear Sandeep Sangaru speak at ReThink – TEDxHyderabad 2018 to know more about the social impact of design.

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