The Role of Designers in Value Creation Process

Socially responsible design as a value is becoming a trigger to the leadership of designers.

At present, design overall is not about the  aesthetic attractiveness of commodities and the form transformation for the sake of profit is no longer a  designers’ main task. These days design is defined as an engine for innovations including novel approaches in management practice. As a  result, new business paradigms such as user experience design, co-design and design thinking have emerged.

In his book, “Rise of the  Creative Class”, Richard Florida  researched that 30% of American professionals use creativity as a  main source of  livelihood, which identifies them as a  creative class. Also, creativity is a  skill that can be developed utilizing design thinking techniques. And finally, modern technologies facilitate the  access to different creative sources. To sum up, the searching of ideas is no longer the main priority of design, but value is becoming one of the most important parts of creative processes. In other words, the basis of design today is comprehension, not problem solving.

Therefore, designers could be inspired by anything during the  idea development, but values creating process is  underpinning on individuality and personal background that is based on experiments, professional collaborations and long-term social research. It reflects the perception of human behavior, monitors changes of values, and most importantly provides the  direction of these changes. Designers have an  opportunity to influence the  products creation by virtue of their role in the  early stage of the  product development processes when the  most crucial decisions are made, including the  impact of these products on society and environment. According to  this statement, it can be stated that designers are taking responsibility for values offered to people.

Definition of Socially responsible design (SRD).

As marketing and consumer behavior research shows, emotional and symbolic aspects of products are as important as the  utilitarian ones. Back in 1959, Sidney J. Levy in his fundamental article “Symbols for Sale”, stated that people buy things for not only what they can do, but also for what they mean. The  meanings express psychological and sociocultural aspects of human  being that constantly change for a variety of reasons such as, economic, politics, demography and, not least, science and technology. Those who offer the products with new values could support these changes or even initiate them.

Designers, as trained and skilled professionals, have continuous attempts to enhance the  social and environmental impact of their work. Since 1960s, the  range of field which designers could focus on and research have been identified, including green design, ethical consumerism, eco-design, sustainable design, inclusive design, etc. (Fuad-Luke, 2009). It is necessary, therefore, to note that these approaches illustrate how the designers’ responsibility and the contribution they can bring to society lifestyle and environment. Also, it needs to be mentioned, that these approaches can be referred to as Socially responsible design (SRD). The  existing literature on SRD does not offer a  clear definition of this notion, therefore various specialists use it according to their own liking and understanding (Koo, 2016).

The role of designers. They attitude and aspiration to develop SRD.

As it has been mentioned before, designers can directly and indirectly influence the  environmental and social performance of products. However, two main problems were identified by research. First, there is the lack of appropriate and structured information about SRD for designers (Lofthouse, 2001). Second, design is, in most cases, a  service for hire, and designers are  usually employed by a  client or company to  work on projects they did not initiate (Fuad-Luke, 2009). In spite the  fact that businesses are setting their own agendas, social responsibility is in part derived from the  individual ethical values of designers. The  same time, it is also a  response to the  needs of their clients.

Designers make decisions daily with regards to the  use of resources and the  lifecycles of products and services, as well as the way in which a company or a brand is perceived. This implies that designers need better understanding of the  negative environmental and social impact of the  products and services they produced, and also comprehension of making the required changes to develop products and services which contribute to socially responsible business. In essence, designers can play a vital role in translating specific corporate social responsibility (CSR) commitments into actions (Cooper, 2005).

Situation today: traditional way of management and the conflict of business/ corporate and SRD values.

Until recently, attention to Corporate social responsibility was not entirely voluntary. Many companies awoke to it only after being surprised by public responses to issues they had not previously thought as being part of their business responsibilities. Activist organizations have grown to be much more aggressive and effective in bringing public pressure to bear on corporations. Nike, for example, faced an extensive consumer boycott after the  New York Times and other media reported abusive labor practices at some of its Indonesian suppliers in the early 1990s (Porter and Kramer, 2006).

While businesses have awakened to these risks, they are much less clear on what to do about them. The Global Reporting Initiative, which is rapidly becoming a  standard for CSR reporting, has enumerated a list of 141 CSR issues, supplemented by auxiliary lists for different industries. This endeavor makes for an excellent starting point, though what practical guidance it offers to corporate leaders is often unclear. Some companies that view CSR as a  way to pacify pressure groups often find that its approach devolves into a series of short-term defensive reactions.

In other words, both business and society have focused too much on the  contradictions between them and not enough on the  points of common interests. To prevent that, a  company must integrate a social perspective into the core frameworks it  already uses to understand competition and guide its business strategy. This concept, called “The principle of shared value” and based on strategic CSR, was described by Michael E. Porter and Mark R. Kramer in the article “Strategy & Society. The Link Between Competitive Advantage and Corporate Social Responsibility” (2006). It suggests choosing a strategy of identifying social issues which a company should focus on. It is argued that companies operating in the  short term faced the  ongoing investments in the creation of social values. It offers instead, that creating shared value should be viewed like research and development, as a long-term investment in a company’s future competitiveness.

It must be said, that given this shared value opportunities are frequently raised in business and manufacturing options, there may be some deep-rooted conflicting priorities between executives who primary concern about economic value and designer’s whose main objective is “customer” (Norman, 2013). Integrating business and social needs take not only good intentions and strong leadership, but also requires adjustments in organization, reporting relationships and incentives. In this sense, the  extent to which CRS is included in the  company’s  policies is a  clear sign of the  mainstream of SRD. Thus, the  designer’s socially responsible design approach can be described either as the  span of the  company’s initiatives associated with CSR-related practice or as the  range of designer’s awareness of CSR-related design issues.

Dr. Yoori Koo, who researched the problem of CSR-expressed design decision making and the  transition of SRD practice into the mainstream CSR (2016), identified the  three possible transition stages of SRD: 1. competitive or regulatory-driven SRD; 2. market- or consumer- driven SRD; 3. designers’ ethical value-driven SRD.

Competitive–driven approach requires that a  designer can only undertake and sustain SRD activities following the  guidelines and regulations of a  company to  fulfill minimum CSR criteria. In this context, a  set of SRD practices was positioned mainly to take advantages of previously undiscovered business opportunities, counter the  risk of losing presence in an  existing market or establish a  presence in the emerging ones.

In their article, “Does it pay to  be good?”, Remi Trudel and June Cotte declared that consumers are willing to pay substantially more for ethically produced goods, suggesting there is a  financial reward for socially responsible behavior. On  the  contrary, Dr. Koo researched that clear linkage between a  company’s SRD initiatives and actual consumer purchasing patterns rarely appear except the very obvious cases such as improving energy efficiency. Thus, Consumer-driven approach is not the most reliable strategy to perform SRD decision-making in product development.

According to researchers, since both business management and customers currently accept a  limited role in SRD  development designers contribute the  most to drive it. The  findings confirmed that the  large numbers of SRD design decisions are being made by designers based on their own ethics and value system yet without having been marked CSR or SRD. It becomes apparent that the designers’ sense of responsibility and their willingness to incorporate it with their design  processes are key contributing factors to SRD-expressed design-decision making.

Alternative ways of designer’s performance.

As it was shown previously, designers can provide a  set of activities that guide business to new values or improvement of those already existing. They can explore and create new forms of practice as well as identify worthwhile projects, which in turn leads to the  reinvention of design culture. In their article, “Collaborative Strategies in Design-intensive Industries: Knowledge Diversity and Innovation” (2010), Claudio Dell’Era and Roberto Verganti identify designers firstly as brokers, who capture, recombine and integrate knowledge about socio-cultural models and product semantics, and secondly as creators of breakthrough product meanings. In other words, designers are able to transfer product languages and meanings across industries, exploiting their connections and networks.

The clear linkage between a company’s SRD initiatives and actual consumer purchasing patterns rarely appear.

Also, there was described a  traditional way of designer’s performance in terms of creating values as an  employed internal professional at a  company. These days designers have some alternative opportunities such as collaborating within professional networks, or participating in different corporate initiatives as external experts or taking part in Pro bono projects.

Antonio Capaldo stated that where the  capability to innovate repeatedly is a  prerequisite for  competing for  successfully, firms benefit from business ideas in which systematic connections to innovation sources beyond the  organization’s boundaries are distinctive components from the very outset (2007). In practice it means that external design professionals who are not familiar in detail with the company’s approach and products tend to provide fresh and more innovative concepts unlike internal employees. On the  other hand, this opportunity allows designers both to collaborate with companies on different categories of development and in different industries and to  transfer languages from one sector to another. For  example, Alessi, a  leading Italian kitchenware manufacturer, has a network of more than 200  external designers, which indicates its innovativeness cannot be traced to an  individual external talent. Similarly, single designers that work with Alessi seem not to  provide an  analogous value when working with other companies (Verganti, 2018).

Matthew Manos encourages designers to give half of their work away for free (2014) and David B. Berman asks to spend at least 10 percent of their professional time helping repair the  world (2008). They do not ask designers to work for free, they just point out that each designer can spend small amount of  professional time to  develop socially responsible projects. Pro bono commitments by design can be claimed as a  part of larger trend driven by the desire of a professional to be more socially engaged. It is one of the  possible ways to provide professional services to communities and non-profit organizations which may not be able to access these services.

On the one hand, unlike the legal field, design is only beginning to put pro bono requirements into place, that is the  reason these projects have less expectations than those that are commercial. On the  other hand, pro  bono service offers very practical benefits for designers apart from the  emotional contribution. First, it allows designers to start new types of projects, to broaden their scope of services, and network with new industries and communities. Second, it offers the  potential for  highly creative and innovative work. And  finally, it launches a  designer into a  leading and strategic role with a  client (Peterson, 2018). Pro bono service  provides designers with the  opportunity to take the  initiative. Often, pro bono clients come to rely on designers for a broader set of services, so designers become as more as equal to executive and can play a leading role in determining the development of nonprofit organizations.

The personal values of designer are the main trigger for new proposal for a society.

Design strategies, methodologies, tools, and language are evolving, due to how design professionals are addressing an  increasing range of social, cultural and environmental challenges. In this paper, there was an attempt to show that one of the  most important impetus for socially responsible design may be attributed to designers’ personal values originated from their background.
There was highlighted the importance of interaction between the  designers’ personal ethical values and the  company’s level of corporate social responsibility, and also identified that designers play an important role in helping companies to access, interpret and exploit knowledge of emerging socio-cultural models and market needs. To support this statement, there were demonstrated the methods of design decision making which made it clear that neither competitive-nor market- driven approaches allow business to perform socially responsible products and services correctly. These approaches do not question the  existing values, but only effectively support them. On  the  contrary, design-driven approach offers a  new vision studying not the people’s needs, but the  changing social and technical context they live  in. The  primary goal is identifying how this context  could be improved for better.

The design-driven approach offers a new vision studying not the people’s needs, but the changing social and technical context they live in.

Moreover, there were presented alternative ways for designers to  perform socially responsible initiatives such as  collaborations or participation in professional networks and taking part in pro  bono projects. The  opportunity to collaborate with a  company on  different categories of  products or services and in different industries allows designers to participate in diverse teams which may bring  a  variety of  perspectives and be able to make better collective decisions and produce more creative and responsible work. Case studies including Alessi, Apple, Bang & Olufsen, Kartell, Philips,  Sony, and Swatch, demonstrate how designers are becoming key actors in terms of product innovation and strategic renewal (Ravasi and Lojacono,  2005). Regarding the  pro bono projects, they provide designers with the opportunity to take the initiative  and have a considerable influence over the project development utilizing not only their professional skills, but also improving entrepreneurial ones.

In his article, “Design in the  transition phase: a  new design culture for the  emerging design” (2015), Ezio Manzini claimed  the  emergence of new design culture, Emerging design, that  is building up with the  growing wave of bottom-up social  innovation. The main trigger of this new origin is design experts who have a  mix of professional skills, sensitivity, and cultural and design tools that can be applied to problems of all kinds, from the  traditional concept of a  product to the  co-creation of a  social service, or proposals for new forms of democratic representation.

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