Recently, about it the ever-fascinating TED Conference has posted a talk given by design legend Philippe Starck. In his upbeat and humorous 18 minute talk, information pills he discusses the role of design within the context of history and society. He even goes so far as to say “I believe in general that my job is absolutely useless; but now, web after Carolyn(Porco) and these guys, I feel like shit”. Check out his talk to hear him elaborate on that!
When I was in design school, I remember being hit one day with this scary thought that maybe my career choice was worthless. Upon graduation, would I simply be making things look “pretty” while trying to convince people to buy crap that they don’t need? When compared to doctors, politicians, teachers, and even fine artists, how important is design in the grand scheme anyway? Some of the great pieces of graphic design have been in support of things I despise like oil companies, companies supporting slave labor, cigarettes, and fast food, so how could I find a place within that and still feel good about myself at night?
Fortunately, I had a great teacher who was able to really shed some light on this. She told me that, contrary to what I was feeling, design is a very noble profession. Sure, you find guys who sell their soul to promote bad or dangerous products, but the nobility is found in the work that you do to promote the causes you believe in. A graphic designer might have the power to enable a struggling startup business to succeed, and perhaps allow the owner to feed their family. Or they might help spread the word about important political and social issues which might not reach the right audience without also being visually engaging. In the end, it’s the designer’s choice.
So, I really took that to heart when deciding what kind of work I wanted to do. Right now, I do a LOT of work for artists and musicians who work their entire lives for countless hours, perfecting their craft and getting paid next to nothing to do it. These people have such passion for what they do that I feel honored to help them reach a larger audience through a poster, CD design, website, or even a business card. I have also helped a number of people move from a great idea to an actual business with a meaningful identity. A bulk of the work I do is for the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning where my work helps struggling learners succeed in school and in life. It doesn’t get more important that that, right?
So, yeah, I do feel that design can change lives and I feel that the work I do is noble and, while it may seem over-idealistic, it is what keeps me going, even when it’s 2 a.m. and I’m trying to meet a deadline . . .
This is an interesting read for all designers out there:
The First Things First 2000 Manifesto.