Fight from the inside-out or boycott brands? How graphic designers shape a more sustainable and ethical food system

It’s interesting to consider how we might be making much quicker progress on the major problems of today’s world if they were treated as design problems, rather than, say, economic problems. For instance, when creating the work exhibited in Massive Change, Bruce and his team looked into what they coined “design economies”; “the regions of your life that are being changed and produced by design.” The outcome of this investigation was that there is not much left of our day-to-day which we do not navigate through design. “[Design] is determining everything about how we live,” Bruce says. And while we have a Minister of Education or Minister of Finance there is no Minister of Design even though “it’s determining our life outcomes more than any other single factor.” For design to mould and promote sustainable choices, it needs to be elevated on a global scale and understood as a vital tool.
The seed for Massive Change was a quote by Arnold Toynbee who stated that the 20th Century, for all its violence or innovation in technology, will be remembered “as an era in which we dared to imagine the welfare of the whole human race as a practical objective,” Bruce explains to us over a Zoom call. “And when he used the term practical objective, he made it a design project, not a utopian vision. It wasn’t by definition, out of reach, but rather something that we actually were undertaking.” That idea, Bruce continues, “was the biggest idea I’ve ever heard.” He realised it was what he had always been doing, and what other designers had always been doing. True, most would not state it in such grandiose terms, but “most designers in their work, are trying to figure out how to make the world a better place… that’s our common denominator.” Massive Change served only to prove this theory. It gave Bruce a “fresh understanding of the power of design, both positive and negative, that we have the power to do incredible things and really solve problems in a way that hasn’t been done before.” The point was not that design had the potential to do amazing things, it’s that it already is.
Of course, we’re talking about huge shifts here and it’s often intimidating, as a sole designer or studio, to visualise the initial step one should take. It would be naive and over-optimistic to suggest that everyone can up and leave their job in the name of social good, for example. But for graphic designers in client-facing roles, working within teams where they perhaps don’t call the shots, Bruce sees ample opportunity to make a difference. What is it about designers that makes them different to other people? For Bruce, it’s about caring more than others – “that’s what makes great design outcomes.”

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