Social value of Design?

After takin’ some notes from the world we live, my mind posted on myself this questions:

  • What is the social value of design?

  • How we can measure the “value of design” in these days compared to the quality of life in first world/developed nations vs third world/developing nations?

  • What is the strenght of design?

Add up the value of all the stuff there is, then subtract everything not designed = value of design!

The financial size of Apple can be attributed to the designs of the iMac and the iPod.


what is the currency of social value?

software design


ID is the hook that snares, software is the addiction that keeps 'em coming back. Just like crack.

Consider the currency of social value as the “amount” of improvement on society thanks to design.

what is that amount?

How we can measure it?

Philosophy has a unit of measure called a “util”. literally some amount of utility a person percieves to gain from something/anything material or not.

you could start this Phd dissertation there…

ok , that makes the "big picture " eve more big right?.. the therm social isn’t valued based on same perspectives.

Just consider the different kinds of culture in every continent.

so… global design is the only practical source for value measure? … or it should be start at local happenings?


Does design have, or have to have, a social value?

If designs purpose is, through products to improve tasks to make them easier, from peeling potatoes to travelling from A-B, no task is really social, in the past tasks may have been done in a social group (women washing clothes together etc) but that was not because of design - that was almost because of a lack of it.

If design is a conduit for technology ie. the packaging that houses the mobile phone, then it’s not the design that has a social value, it’s the technology. In many instances this technology rather than unite us is distancing us. The young and old technology devide. The social networking sites, that rather than keep you in touch allow you to stay more distant etc.

If a designer creates a piece of public infrastructure - park bench etc does it have a social value? People sit on the floor, throw down a picnic blanket, sit on rocks. The fact that someone placed a piece of design in a convinient meeting area, does not suggest that that man made object has a social value better than any other object.

If design makes an object look beautiful, you see someone using it and it allows you to spark up a conversation with that person, because you also have one or want one and want to know what it’s like etc. Is it the design or the fact that marketeers have made you believe that this is a must have etc? If you wanted to spark up a conversation, you could have chosen anything ‘Hey, you have a beard like mine! I haven’t seen that on a woman before’… :wink:

I’d argue that design might not have a social value - just my two cents.

I always think of design as bringing a little joy. Joy has social value.

Within the context of the relationship the user has with a product I would agree, but that doesn’t exist within a vacuum. I think the measure of happiness or joy a product gives to a user expands socially, consider Apple’s customers as an easy example. On a one on one basis between an Apple customer and their product there is a limited measurement of happiness, but consider the sharing of experiences between Apple customers and their friends and family about that limited measure, it is something that spreads. People like to see their friends and family happy, they will socially accept the things that provide that. This is part of what has made Apple so successful, and if Apple is successful they can make more money to develop more products to perpetuate the cycle meanwhile making more of their suppliers happy with contracts and business. Outside of Apple consider how this expands into capitalism, the economy, and further technological development.

There was a CNN interview on “Business Ethics” and the interviewee(some financial expert) said that in Business school, they teach students that the purpose of business is to protect the interest of its stakeholders. They didn’t teach the students anything about improving people’s quality of life.

If the business that design is trying to serve isn’t about improving people’s quality of life, then it’s very hard for design to be the “savior”, because it’s not.

Not saying that design cannot add this nice quality to the business offerings, but if you(the designer) cannot convince your budget owners that this will benefit his business and its stakeholders and make them more bucks, then to them it’s a risk. Ultimately, it’s all about the priority of the business. If the business runners are truly about their customers and not about keeping their own pay checks coming, then designers will have a much easier job.

You’re onto something here. We designers would like to feel we’re the ‘good guys’ in all of this, but we’re not. Well…it’s relative. We’re the ones being…er… less bad.

We debate over things like whether an I-pod creates better society compared to say a MP3 player and would like to feel that design somehow made this a better place. That slight improvement of lifestyle is NOTHING compared to the life-saving ideas we should be creating for the Third World. We’re like a bunch of Romans debating whether red or green grapes taste better while the rest of Europe is starving.

Sorry for the downer, just felt like stirring the pot a little. I’ll get off my soapbox and get back to sitting on my ass and doing nothing about it now.


Ultimately, it comes down to the relationship between the design and society. So it can have a social value or it can’t, depending on the structure of society and it’s economy. Being a tool, design, just like science, can be used for the betterment of society as it can be used for it’s detriment.

In our current society, design is mostly used as a mean to increase profit by companies, as hey also stated.
That means that any unprofitable use of design is discouraged, and this aspect has deep social ramifications, since established corporate/financial orders have a built in tendency to stop new, socially positive advents from coming to fruition, if there is a foreshadowed loss of market share, profit and hence power.

I agree that Design is a conduit for technology, it is not limited to products, it can be applied to social systems as well, because societies are technical constructs.

I guess there’s a few different questions being asked and answered in this topic, but just focusing on the first question, also the title of this topic 'social value of design:

Assuming that we’re all referring to ‘design’ as industrial or product, the encasing of technology within a housing an improvement of function etc.

Is this something that the technology is doing, or the product design? I’m typing this on a Dell computer, you could be viewing it on any number of different styles/makes of computer, or on an i-phone etc. What’s giving you the social connectivity, it’s not the vessel, but the technology within, which was designed, but not under the banner of industrial/product design.

I thought about this over night. Design makes tasks quicker and easier, which gives us more time to be social in a context outside of a working environment. However it’s Technology that makes us more or less social, so taken in a literal sense. I still don’t think design has social value.

I’m typing this on a computer that I built out of many different components from many different manufacturers, by itself it doesn’t give any social value aside from me talking about building my own computer and some folks being mildly impressed with that giving me an increment of pride. But you’re right, it wasn’t put together under the banner of ID, it was put together under the banner of social intent, so that I could use it to get online and interact with you fine folks. The technology of the components was important to me and I spec’ed the ones that would make my tasks quicker and easier. What they look like, whether they are ergonomic, is moot, they’re part of a system in a case.

I still think that ID contributes, but not by standing alone, Art yes, ID no. Combining technology, with a portal/interface, with people has social value. Combining technology, with transportation (mass transit), with people has social value. Combining technology, with architecture, with people has social value. I think ID can contribute to solving problems by combining these aspects into something positive.

In regards to the talk of business students being taught it’s their job to increase the bottom line and put money in the stake-holders pockets, well that’s capitalism in a nutshell. What we’re seeing in the US is folks on Wall Street inventing new ways to make money to avoid regulation and make huge profits, they’re not gaming the system, they’re creating their own and letting the government sort it out.

Don’t ever kid yourself, business runners only care about their customers to the extent of keeping them as customers and getting their money and they will tell any story, feign any compassion or understanding to do so to maintain brand integrity. Capitalism has many up-sides, but unfortunately it is usually a very dis-compassionate endeavor. Oh, and it’s also an old-fashioned fabricated construct of man that will eventually crumble under the weight of all the greed and give way to something better.

say what you want about capitalism and corporations, but this is the system responsible our current society, with the best standard of living that the human race has ever seen. The problem with compassion is that it is a form of domination over others. “I’m much better than you, but here, maybe I can flick you a few bones to help you scrape a living”. Business in comparison is quite honest in it’s intentions. It’s all about the deal, and if you didn’t do your research and got tricked, it’s on you. OF COURSE, there need to be the proper laws and regulations to prevent outrageous abuses.

look at africa, where has 50 years of compassion gotten it? Large populations are kept straggling along on the edge of survival by food and medical donations. When something goes wrong, the charities pull out and millions die, generating headlines that boost charitable donations. Compassion has managed to keep africa in a constant state of collapse for several generations now.

In asia, on the other hand, we have mostly just been buying their stuff. You can scream and whine about child labor and other abuses, but they have brought themselves up to a much better standard of living through hard work and commerce. If these sweatshop jobs are so terrible, why do people keep taking them? BECAUSE the alternative is worse. Sweatshops and child labor will be eliminated in due course as these countries transition to a state of full development, just like they were in the US and Europe.

Standard of living is based primarily on income, not to be confused with quality of life, in which case capitalism overall did not contribute much for in comparison to other scientific advances.

I wouldn’t call that compassionate behavior at all, but it is true, it is as compassionate as we can be today.

Honest about being dishonest… people can’t trust each other nor be really ethical in this economic system.

William McDonough said "If we look at a regulation, it’s a signal of design failure. A regulation is a signal of design failure because the state is stepping in, saying, “Wait a minute, we never gave you the right to kill. We’ll tell you at what rate you
can dispense death.” I couldn’t agree more here, but i leave you all with the question, what is causing the failure? Where is the flaw in our social design?

Africa, especially sub-Saharan regions, have been victims of corporate/financial theft basically, nothing to do with mismanaged “compassion”. They have been driven to huge debts through the World Bank and the IMF, and their resources are practically given away as a result, they are not used for the benefit of it’s habitants. I dare to say they have been turned to modern slaves, except instead of at least being housed and fed, they are forced to feed and house them selves.

The way things are going, i doubt it, unless companies resort to full automation, but that would cause a huge negative impact in this economic system, since it would kill jobs.

Only time will tell.