We designers couldn’t fix the Hoover dam if it broke, nor could we turn back time to save Lois Lane from certain death. We can’t stop crime, feed hungry mouths, or fill empty pockets. That’s not our occupation. We aren’t responsible for those tasks. We are responsible for the communication of ideas: our specialty.
We may not be superheroes able to solve the world’s many deficiencies singlehandedly, but we can develop ideas that eventually become solutions. We are team players. We have a role to play – an important one at that. We provide the creative energy it takes to produce divergent ideas, and we have the expertise it takes to converge upon and strengthen the good ideas. This is the creative process – the essence of our occupation as designers and the key to successful humanitarian design around the world.
Bruce Nussbaum’s article about past humanitarian design efforts indicates a failure on behalf of the designers to consider the cultural values of those they were trying to help. He specifically mentioned the One Laptop Per Child project and how certain Asian countries denied them on the grounds of “inappropriate technological imperialism”. Granted, not all of the people behind the project were graphic designers, but the fact remains that there was little to no collaboration with the target countries. Those countries want solutions to their problems, but they want their own solutions. This is where designers can step in.
The second article we read as a class talked about designers fulfilling their roles as creative thinkers without forcing their own plans upon another culture. Rather than develop ideas at home and bring them abroad, designers can bring and share the creative process abroad. Designers work with established humanitarian organizations within their own countries by engaging in brainstorming sessions centered around divergent and convergent ideation. Once plenty of ideas are in place, the designers leave the organization to carry out the developed plans in their own way. This approach allows outsiders to help while enabling each respective culture to claim the humanitarian efforts as their own.
So, designers may not be superheroes, but we are excellent communicators and creative thinkers. We can create and share ideas with others, and that is where every good movement begins.