Designing behaviour
Sunday 28 October, 12.45pm until 1.45pm, Upper Gulbenkian Gallery Lunchtime Debates

Nowadays, even before designers have put pen to paper, there are growing concerns about the consequences of their work and its effect on society. They are accused of everything from creating too much waste (excess packaging) to fuelling excessive consumption (producing unnecessary gadgets, luxury goods). We are told designers need to rethink their role, ensuring ‘products’ make a responsible contribution toward the common good, solve social problems, even promote responsible behaviour. Many designers have gone ethical; every designer wants to produce their version of ‘I’m not a plastic bag’. 

While design has traditionally been about making life better by designing better things, many now argue it also has a duty to promote wellbeing, responsible behaviour, and to make people think rather than just consume. Today there are calls from government, local authorities and policy advocates that designers need to rethink their role, ensuring that ‘products’ make a responsible contribution toward the common good, by tackling issues from health awareness and rebuilding community to reducing consumption and global warming.

Are designers now hiding behind social policy initiatives rather than making the case for better design as a worthwhile end in itself? Is improving the morals or changing the behaviour of the buying public, really designers’ business? Is too much political responsibility being is placed on the designer, leaving less room for imagination, experimentation and innovation?


Martyn Perks
digital business consultant and writer; co-author, Big Potatoes: the London manifesto for innovation
Molly Webb
business engagement manager, The Climate Group; author, The Disrupters: Lessons for Low-Carbon Innovation from the New Wave of Environmental Pioneers
Professor Anthony Dunne
head, Design Interactions Department, Royal College of Art
Austin Williams
associate professor in architecture, XJTLU University, Suzhou, China; director, Future Cities Project; convenor, Bookshop Barnies; founding member of New Narratives

 Produced by

Martyn Perks digital business consultant and writer; co-author, Big Potatoes: the London manifesto for innovation

The problem with design, Colin Davies

 Recommended readings

Journey to the interface
Since 'service' mediates people's relations not only with the private but the public sector too, redesigning it could transform people's relationship to the state
Sophia Parker & Joe Heapy, Demos, 5 July 2006

Re-designing the game
The old economic drivers of productivity and growth are finally giving way to energy and waste conscious objectives. As the Designs of the Time initiative (Dott) shows, this means designers can now help to 'modify everyday patterns of activity'
John Thackara, Doors of perception, 6 December 2006

1000 words: a manifesto for sustainability in design
'We think that we're in the artifact business, but we're not; we're in the consequence business'
Allan Chochinov, Core77, 31 March 2007

You're so intelligent
An insecure lot, designers are desperate to be taken seriously as a force for good in the world. But what they really need is to be valued for what they're good at; making things look pretty
Michael Bierut, Design observer, 8 May 2007

Watch Claire Fox News examine several issues regarding design in Britain, including business, social engineering, green issues and innovation.
Claire Fox News, 18 Doughty Street TV, 24 September 2007

recommended by spiked

The tyranny of technology
Martyn Perks, 23 April 2007

If you’re happy and you know it
Michael Savage, 28 November 2005

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