Design for Good

Using your creativity to make an impact

By

Editorial team

Published

May 1, 2022

Illustration by

Name

There are many reasons one might choose to become a designer—a love of aesthetics, a mind that’s geared towards ideation and creativity, a desire to express oneself. But what about making the world a better place? This sentiment might feel too romantic to some, maybe even out of reach. But especially in today’s reality, there could not be a better reason to add to your list of motivations to create.


Not to be the pessimist downer in the room, but the list of horrible things happening in the world seems to only be getting larger by the day. Climate crisis, the Ukraine invasion, racism, body shaming, xenophobia, economic disparities—we can all agree the world could be an infinitely better place. Instead of letting this list depress you into feelings of powerless apathy, might we suggest turning that helplessness into action, using your unique skills and talent as a form of activism.


Design has always been a powerful tool. Whether it be through campaigns, posters, or products, designers hold skills that materialize concepts and transform the way we live. In trying to better understand and explore this topic and all its manifestation, we talk to creatives who not only have something to say, but are also doing something about it.


Let your values and interests lead the way

Let’s start with a conversation with Vienna-based Process Studio and its two directors, Moritz Resl and Martin Grödl. Founded in 2015, their studio specializes in generative and interactive design, creating and developing traditional graphic design solutions and specialized software and tools for their clients.


One of their most acknowledged projects is Tokens for Climate Care, which was the official Austrian contribution to the 2021 London Design Biennale. The project includes an installation and a mobile app in which users choose three words out of a ‘climate vocabulary’. Those words are then translated through an AI system to generate a digital token that can be downloaded as a symbol and used towards initiatives for climate care.


Image by Process Studio


Wix Playground: ‘Tokens for Climate Care’ is one of the more cause-centric works you’ve created, focusing on the climate crisis. How did the project unfold, from its ideation to the final concept?


Mortiz: “The project was commissioned to us by the MAK museum in Vienna, in order to represent Austria at the London Design Biennale of 2021. The brief was very open, with one basic requirement: to create something that explores the way technology can help the climate crisis. We’ve worked with the museum before, creating the brand identity for an exhibition called Uncanny Values, using an AI based emoji generator. The MAK knew we had those capabilities in terms of technology, and they were interested in incorporating an AI system in this project as well. We realized we wanted the project to deal with the idea of climate care through communication, as this is such a key factor in the crisis itself. We brainstormed the concept together with the curator and the team, eventually landing on the idea of the tokens as symbols—as communicators of climate issues.”


Martin: “We used a local Vienna-based AI company to help us with the programming and after many modifications and schedule changes—mainly due to COVID—we ended up flying to London last summer to set up the exhibition. The installation is now at the Austrian Institute of Technology where we are the artists in residence and the tokens archive is constantly updated and can be viewed online.”


WP: You mentioned communication as a key concept in the project. For many creatives it can feel overwhelming to think about how to communicate what they care about and take action.


Martin: “This is actually the main idea behind our project: how can a field like graphic design or visual arts have an impact? That was our starting point and our main thesis of the work: that the climate care issue is also a communication issue; it's about values and how we communicate them. The AI system we created uses abstract concepts and words and turns them into graphic symbols that are meant to communicate. It's a very conceptual starting point, and that’s exactly the question and awareness we wanted to raise—how do we deal with the challenge of communicating the climate crisis? That could be relevant to many other causes and topics.”


WP: Was it an intentional decision to work on the climate crisis issue? Something you aimed for when choosing your next project?


Moritz: “It happened quite organically for us. We never sat down and said ‘let's change the world’. We were lucky to already have a relationship with the MAK museum, which has a very long history in trying to build awareness in society and engage with various communities. The curator and the Biennale team already had a very strong focus on climate change issues, so it was a matter of joining an existing exploration of a theme, which of course is very important to us as well and resonates with our own values.

Funnily enough, we have done some stuff in the past dealing with climate change, but it wasn't a conscious decision to focus on this topic more—it just happened. That being said, if we were ever approached by an oil company, we would have declined it for sure.”


Martin: “It’s our internal ethics, which we share, that transpire and eventually get us specific projects. And actually our focus as a studio is what brings those specific clients to us. We focus on questions and experimentations that deal with technology, design, and society. This style and approach go well with complex concepts. Therefore it’s appealing to scientific groups and topics such as the climate crisis.”


Image by Process Studio


WP: Speaking of technology and your specific focus, activism in design used to be just about applied graphic design, like designing posters or t-shirts. Is the digital world providing design tools for activism as well?


Martin: “I would say we are just at the beginning. For example, the technology behind AI is quite pervasive, but not enough in design and visuals. AI applications are still quite limited and not very creative. Having a project like we had from a museum allowed us to step out of this narrow framework and ask ourselves very basic questions, such as ‘can this exciting new technology help us in bigger problems?’ And it might be very naive, but still every intellectual is asking themselves this very question.”


WP: Do you think designers have a certain responsibility to use their creativity for a cause? To use their skills as a power they not only could—but must—use?


Moritz: “I actually don’t think of design as a superpower. You can be active in any sort of job. For me, thinking about activism or being responsible is more a question of character, like how you treat other people. It's not about design but about what type of person you choose to be in this world. But of course as a designer the work you do reflects the stuff that you're interested in. So if you’re leaning towards socially-aware topics, they will naturally be the center of your work.”


WP: Looking back at ‘Tokens for Climate Care’, what’s your view of it now? Do you plan on continuing its development somehow? See more in its future?


Moritz: “From the beginning, it was designed as an experiment. You can tell just by having a look at the results that it's far from perfect; it's not anything you would imagine as the ultimate graphic solution. At the same time, the specific climate care vocabulary we work with is very abstract on purpose, very different from commercial AI systems which are designed to recognize a cat or a dog but not words like “sustainability” or “natural”. It means the output is debatable, with no right or wrong answer. We’re not fully happy with the visual result, and would love to improve that in the future if that becomes possible. It’s part of the reason we decided to have the token as an open, downloadable SVG file, so that it would act as a starting point—an editable proposal. A work in progress that you can then take and alter and make your own.”


Martin: “The ideal outcome is we’ll have another iteration, with AI results getting better and the graphic output is more elegant. But actually the state that it's in at the moment is quite cute because it's very crude, the way the tokens look when they are produced. Almost like cave drawings, or a child's painting. It's very basic, just a first step, which is what we were aiming at in a way.”


Moritz: “Yeah, it resembles a thick black marker you use to create shapes, which connects the project to protest movements and the tools that they use, this basic DIY style. That’s also reflected in the visual outcome and the aesthetics which is nice actually, it was not planned, but it makes a lot of sense.”


Martin: “One of the main things we’d like to do, which should be pretty straightforward, is to open the generator website to the public so that everyone could use it from their phones or desktops. That would be an interesting thing to do for sure. There’s also the tokens archive, which is already public anyway, but could be used in more interesting ways.”


WP: Apart from taking on projects like this, is there any other way in which you consider yourselves activists?


Martin: “I would say that when it comes to technology, we always try to have an impact and try to demystify this topic. So many people experience programming and tech as an inaccessible system, so we try to show how we make our things and what they look like when we make them; to show how it's more of a process like improvising with an instrument we play with.

We want people to see that technology can be used to make an impact and be used to design great things for society.

Also, when we are in a position to choose clients, we always choose the ones that appeal to our values. Not because we feel obliged to do it or think we should, it’s just always more interesting to us. We also find that these topics usually offer more freedom. Because these topics tend to be more complex and raise questions, there’s much more room for experimentation, which we are always interested in. It’s always a discussion you enter into, not just trying to provide a final answer or a visual solution.”


Moritz: “I hope that our work speaks for itself in a way in that sense - if you follow our Instagram for example, you’ll feel our values shine through. It's very rare that we’ll post an image without writing in length about what it is, where it comes from, and where to get the additional information about the topic. We’ll try to inform through this platform a bit more, instead of just using it as a visual output. This is part of our job as communicators.”


Image by Meg Garrod


Turning your personal struggle to a positive change

23 years old Meg Garrod is a self-love illustrator, activist and creative. Her work focuses on representing bodies that aren’t usually seen in the media in a beautiful and empowering way. Currently studying graphic design, she also runs her small business from her home studio, selling her work.


WP: Looking at your work, it is predominantly on the topic of body positivity and inclusion. Why this issue in particular? Were you always dedicated to it?


Meg: “Growing up, I never saw bodies like mine represented in art, TV, magazines or on social media, and so I experienced a really negative self-image. I was bullied for my body size and it was very clear to me that fat bodies were not seen as equals in society.

During my college years I discovered the body positivity movement and my mindset began to completely change. I started to love my body exactly as it was and began creating art surrounding my experiences as a fat woman—creating body-positive work to reflect this new mindset. My art and small business is all about helping people love themselves exactly how they are, in the hopes that no other young person will feel the way I did.”


WP: Having the skill and talent to be a visual creator is a powerful tool. Do you feel you have a responsibility to address topics of injustice or raise awareness?


Meg: “I personally feel a responsibility to talk about issues dealing with body diversity, inclusion and feminism due to the adversity I faced growing up. I know I never want anyone to feel the way society once made me feel about myself so I make work that goes against society's toxic beauty standards and show people that they are beautiful just the way they are. Just to change one person's view of themselves into something positive feels like a step towards the right direction.”


WP: What type of comments and feedback are you receiving for your work? Do they encourage you to continue taking a stand?


Meg: “As with everything, there’s some positive and some negative but I mostly get positive responses online, and some of the lovely messages I receive make all the hard work worth it. I’ve had people tell me my work is the reason they’ve worn a bikini for the first time or felt confident enough to come out to their parents. I get lots of comments from people who have never seen their bodies represented in a positive way so when I do so in my art it makes them feel empowered and represented. Responses like these are truly why I continue to create inclusive artwork.”


WP: You use social media as your platform to post your work and engage with your audience.

What’s your relationship with it?


Meg: “As much as I love social media as a place where I can communicate with amazing people, share my work and run my business, it can be tough. There are ups and downs with engagement and the algorithm that makes it hard for my work to reach my followers. A lot of social media sites also censor nude art so it's tough to find a balance with sharing my work and having my posts not get taken down. I mainly use Pinterest, as it supports my artwork and content and doesn't censor it. It always feels like a safe and welcoming place so I love sharing my work there.”


WP: Do you see yourself continuing to develop yourself in this direction in the future? How would you like to move forward?


Meg: “In the next few months I’ll have left university and hopefully be a full-time artist so I hope I can find more time to create empowering artwork. I’m so passionate about exploring body acceptance, diversity and feminism that I think my work will always center around these themes.”


WP: What would your tips be for young creatives who want to create meaningful work that makes a difference? How can you “brand” yourself as someone who touches on such topics?


Meg: “Stay true to yourself. Make work you actually care about. If you’re creating work because it’s “trendy” and not what you’re passionate about you probably won’t enjoy it and it won’t last.

If you're passionate about your work, other people see that and want to come along on the journey with you.”


Image by Meg Garrod

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