Saturday, August 16, 2008

Design for the other 90 percent.

“The majority of the world’s designers focus all their efforts on developing products and services exclusively for the richest 10% of the world’s customers. Nothing less than a revolution in design is needed to reach the other 90%.” —Dr. Paul Polak, International Development Enterprises

It is difficult to keep things like this in mind when we are surrounded by so many trivial things competing for our attention. I feel like I'm constantly trying to avoid advertisements from people who want nothing more from me than my money. This extends from the glossy catalogs I get in the mail, to the emails from my favorite stores informing me about sales events, to the phone calls from nonprofits, to people begging for change on the street. They all are selling me something, whether it is a product or an emotional, self-congratulatory moment of charity. I frequently have to remind myself that the troubles that plague me are rarely--if ever--life-threatening. It is difficult to escape the distracting, movie-like dramas that unfold in my daily life, but also an important thing to struggle towards.

How real is all of the fluff that I see? I just watched Moulin Rouge again tonight on DVD and while it is a great movie that I love, do I need to feel guilty for being able to escape and enjoy the sensory experience of being transported to a fantasy world for a couple of hours? I believe the answer is no. But only if I am able to separate the fantasy worlds of advertising and the entertainment industry from reality, which is becoming increasingly difficult. I struggle to maintain awareness of what I consider to be important issues in the face of sensationalistic news stories and celebrity-driven media. Doesn't it appear that we have created a pantheon of figures who are larger-than-life and who we hold to different values because of their fame and fortune?

As a future design professional, I have to keep reminding myself where my moral priorities are. If I specifically chose not to pursue graphic design in an attempt to avoid ending up churning out marketing and advertising materials, then I need to know where I want to concentrate my energy. I can do more with an interior design degree than just create aesthetically pleasing or highly functional environments. Everyone has to do work that will pay the bills, but I hope to be able to do so much more than just that. I recalled the Design For The Other 90 Percent exhibition that was up while I was interning at the Cooper-Hewitt last summer. If I combine this with the statistics I've learned about indigenous populations regarding health and well-being, I believe that I see an opportunity. If charity begins at home, then how can I work to improve living conditions for indigenous populations here in North America?

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