Social Responsibility

With TED happening this week, it’s been interesting to follow the buzz of activity around it. Watching Jamie Oliver’s powerful talk, an “all-out assault” on the need to change how we teach children about food, got me thinking… What role can we play, as interactive media designers, to make change and support responsible behavior in the world?


The first time I was introduced to the idea that my work had social impact was shortly after I graduated college and learned about CPSR (Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility. Founded in 1981, their goals are still valid, it’s just that the “computer professionals” title makes them feel like part of a previous era.

AIGA supports a wide range of initiatives dealing with society and the environment on their site. Their Design for Democracy is a great program to increase civic participation. And while most of their work is US-focused, it can be localized for different countries.

The Designers Accord is a collection of designers/members “working together to create positive environmental and social impact.” It’s currently quite active in educating designers about the impact their work makes in the world. They don’t talk too much about interactive media, but we can certainly learn from their approaches.


There’s an explosion of sites and initiatives to give people access to data that they previously hadn’t access to, or couldn’t visualize. Much is built around Web 2.0 technologies like crowdsourcing, mashups, and open APIs.

The White House’s new Open Government Initiative aims to make available much of the information that has previously been inaccessible to the general public. The site lists a wide range of programs that are part of the initiative. For example, is a “citizen-friendly platform that provides access to Federal datasets.” There’s a lot of data there, and it’s growing every day.

They Rule (originally from 2004) shows how interconnected the boards of America’s corporations are. And Eight Maps‘ mash-up of Google Maps and Prop 8 Donors illustrates, somewhat controversially, the conservative areas in California.

These are just a couple examples of what’s possible. They can serve as inspirations and models for future projects. But — do these sites simply speak to the converted? Do they change people’s attitudes or behaviors?

Behavior Change

As designers, how do we translate our interest in responsibility into action? We can take steps to improve usability to make it easier for users to act. But how do we more deeply affect change? We need to work with clients to change the assignments. And we need to use interaction and design innovation to encourage users to change their behaviors.

Nothing happens overnight — but it starts with a first step. And an everyday change to how we approach what we do.

There are no answers in this post, just some first thoughts. It’s something I want to explore more in future posts…

Post, or send me your thoughts, or examples of work you think is relevant.

Eight Maps
They Rule