Making this decade one of meaningful design

How do we combat the last 100 years of excess with meaningful design? Join us as we take a look at the problem, but more importantly the work that is already being done and will continue to help those in need and make sure that this decade can be one of meaningful change.

It's amazing to think about how design has changed our world. Almost every aspect of our lives has been touched by new technology, new services and new processes that we have now adapted to as our new normal. Take the convenience of food delivery; in Australia many of us have become so used to the convenience of online ordering and meal delivery that it is almost unheard of for us to call a restaurant, place an order, and then go to pick it up ourselves.

Many people love the benefits and the added convenience that these designs have brought us — but there is also a degree of suffering that has been caused by our excessive need for convenience. In a recent article by Fast Company, they examine how in the last century "convenience crushed everything else". They had experts predict what design would look like over the next ten years, and the through-line in their predictions was that the 2020s are going to be about fixing the problems caused by the excess of the last decade.

To an extent, we agree with this. There have been great advances in design and technology, but much of it has been at the cost of the environment, people who are vulnerable, people's mental health and wellbeing, and much more. But at the same time it is wrong to think that meaningful design has not already begun. There are elements of it already in our design communities, working away at making a difference.‍

The design community's response to the current bushfire crisis is a clear sign of this. When tragedy struck many people sprung to action, including designers who are using their skills to think not only of those affected, but also about the recent changes in our environment and how we can plan for the future. Initiatives like Laughing Mind's Hackathon to gather resources and help solve problems for effected communities and The Design Files' online art auction raising funds for bushfire related charities are both great examples of this.

Design for education report image

The crisis that this new decade brought with it is shocking, but it has been heartening to see people jumping into action so quickly. On our part, we are continuing with our self-funded research and development work exploring different areas that could use a design intervention to create meaningful change. In 2019 this led to our Design for Education report.

This report doesn't advocate for a design we have created, it instead acts as a guide for those looking to design within the wide-ranging education environment, so that they can understand exactly what needs to be considered when designing for education. We are also continuing our work on our Youth Justice project. This project aims to engage with the consistent and persistent challenges being faced by those in and working with the system, and gathering insights about where design could make a difference for them.

Image of a laptop displaying the Y4Y Youth Workforce website

Meaningful change is also happening in the work being requested by our clients. Issues like unemployment and mental health are being combated with new initiatives, some of which we have been a part of. Recent examples of this include our work with Whitelion on Youth For Youth (Y4Y) Youth Workforce which finds innovative ways to combat youth unemployment, with Australian Red Cross on an employment program for people seeking asylum in Australia, and with Orygen where we co-designed guidelines to help young people have safer online conversations about suicide, depression and mental health.‍

When faced with overwhelming issues it can often be hard to see a way through, but in this case there are many initiatives that have already begun and are aimed at using design to create meaningful change. Despite the excess that has been created over the last century, it is important that we look ahead at the kind of difference we can make for those in need and the world that can be built using meaningful design.

To find out more about about any or all of the work Portable is doing, email simon@portable.com.au

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