We often understand good design when something looks nice or functions well, and conversely, bad design when something doesn’t — such as a leaky teapot. But how can design be used to do good? And why is the idea of ‘design for good’ so important?
This year, the Institute of Designers in Ireland (IDI) introduced a new category into its annual design awards: Design for Good. Award-winning designer and IDI president Róisín Lafferty says ‘design for good’ can sometimes be set aside as a specific type of design or a “box-ticking exercise”, but that now, more than ever, all design has a duty to be genuinely considered, holistically looked at in terms of requirements and functionality, and authentically be designed for good. “Design should have a deeper impact than just surface level. It can genuinely enhance how we live across all disciplines and improve the things we do and the way we act. That shouldn’t be underestimated,” she says.
Lafferty cites examples from this year alone, including Covid-19 signage and touchpoints to remind, encourage, and protect, great website design, protective screen design, government messaging and advertisements carefully designed to reconnect people, even thermometer scanners and street pods for dining. “The pandemic has brought about a huge amount of creative thinking and ultimately a lot of ‘design for good’,” says Lafferty.
“Seeing the resourcefulness and inventiveness of our design community is a positive amidst this negative time.”
Awarded both the IDI Grand Prix award and the Design for Good award, the Creatives against Covid-19 project by Dublin-based creative agency RichardsDee saw designers produce a range of 1,278 poster designs which sold online during the first lockdown, raising €235,000 for charities Childline and Women’s Aid.
Celine Dee, co-founder of RichardsDee, says the pandemic has shown how fundamental creativity is as people and businesses have imaginatively approached the challenges Covid-19 has brought. “The IDI Design For Good category has not just showcased, but proven, how design positively impacts people, communities, and society — something we call ‘designing meaningful change’ at RichardsDee,” she says.
“As a community, focusing our skills to create new possibilities, bring people together and improve lives has never been more important.”
As co-founder of We Make Good, Joan Ellison is also familiar with the power of design for positive change. We Make Good is a social enterprise design and homewares brand — a ‘business with heart’ — whose aim is to grow the work integrated social enterprise (WISE) sector, supporting the creation of jobs for people who might not ordinarily be able to access mainstream employment.
A project of charity and social enterprise, We Make Good works with people who are disadvantaged in terms of ethnicity, social background, disability, or having spent time in prison, to create beautiful, design-led objects for sale online at wemakegood.ie and at 16 Fade St, Dublin City.
“This year has been busy with our Textile Studio (providing training and employment for women from a refugee background) running a successful mask-making project,” says Ellison.
“In partnership with Irish Refugee Council, 6,000 washable masks were donated to people in direct provision. This project helped us to create 10 extra jobs within the studio with everyone working remotely — quite the logistical feat.”
We Make Good has also worked with Child Vision and Coolmine Therapeutic Community to produce Soap with Soul, a range of beautiful natural soaps (including one for dogs).
It will soon launch a set of 12 Christmas decorations handmade by Cairde Enterprises in Limerick, which works with people with lived experience of the criminal justice system.
"It's a privilege to do what we do, to work with craftspeople like the women in our textile studio, candle makers in Camphill Community Dunshane, or our master tinsmiths,” says Ellison. “When you buy from us, you are voting for a fairer, kinder society, one that cares for all its citizens irrespective of their background and life experience.”
In Belfast, the NOW Group supports people with learning difficulties and autism to realise their full potential. Its services support people into employment, training, transition, and volunteering. NOW operates social enterprises including Loaf Catering, the Just a Minute JAM card and app, and Gauge Impact.
Loaf Pottery is also part of the NOW Group. It's a pottery brand based in Crawfordsburn, Co Down, with social purpose at heart. “At Loaf Pottery it’s our goal to create beautiful, handcrafted artisan pottery whilst supporting people with learning difficulties and autism into jobs with a future,” says Maeve Monaghan, chief executive of NOW Group.
“Choosing gifts with a social purpose gives back to communities. However, it’s important that our pottery is also beautiful. Each mug from Loaf Pottery is handmade and the subtle differences in each piece tell their own distinct story.”
At the National College of Art and Design, Izzy Wheels founder Ailbhe Keane was tasked with developing a project around the idea of design for good. She produced a range of wheelchair wheel covers that would reflect the vibrant personality of her sister Izzy, who was born with spina bifida and is a wheelchair user with a flair for style.
Izzy Wheels is now a successful, award-winning business which has just announced a collaboration with iconic Japanese brand Hello Kitty. Last year Izzy Wheels collaborated with Mattel to produce a range of wheel covers for the European launch of its wheelchair user Barbie doll. Brand ambassador Izzy Keane says collaborating with Mattel opened up the conversation around disability in a “light-hearted and positive way”.
Ailbhe Keane believes people should be encouraged to think more about how design can be used for good. “Izzy Wheels was such a simple idea but it has opened up a big conversation around disability. Collaborations with artists and brands like Hello Kitty allow wheelchairs to become much more than medical devices — they can be a form of artistic self-expression. The collaboration with Hello Kitty has played an important part in our brand mission, which is to bridge the gap between disability and fashion.”
Formerly Social Innovation Fund Ireland, Rethink Ireland provides cash grants and business support to social innovations such as We Make Good and FoodCloud. Its task is to fuel these innovations with the knowledge and advice they need to succeed on a nationally impactful scale. To date, Rethink Ireland has raised €60m in funding to support over 200 of the best social innovations in Ireland, reaching 300,000 people and helping 864 people progress into employment.
Rethink Ireland chief executive Deirdre Mortell says projects such as We Make Good are great examples of how design can contribute to “solving critical social issues and developing social innovations”.
“Their online store is also an example of a social enterprise with a great range of Christmas presents to buy this year. Izzy Wheels is another example of using design for good,” says Mortell. “It’s smart design that is really commercial but that also tackles issues in a way that is just really inspired.''