The Social Role of the Designer

by Marcio Dupont on June 26, 2010

Ezio Manzini, famous Italian designer, raises an important question: What would be the designer’s role in the current transition to a sustainable society?

He defines the role of the designer, in a broader context, saying that the role is to build scenarios to stimulate discussion and innovation, helping the regeneration of social and environmental aspects of society. He adds that the design has a formative-educational role that will help society to adjust to a new reality. The most recent definition of the term “sustainable” is “quality of life,” resting on three pillars: social, economic and environmental.

But then how would this formative role work?

The formative role would be to educate the user to a new lifestyle for a future sustainable society through the design and use of products, services and systems consistent with this new sustainable quality of life.

If we could see a bridge between modern society and what we want for the future, a sustainable society, we could say we’re still at the beginning of the bridge. Design is the discipline that will link the bridge between the old system and new system of production, consumption, and post-consumption.

This Design social role further increases the responsibility of the designer, as we are builders of  material realities dictating the rules of how society should be consuming, building and/or destroying lifestyles.

There will be a new learning process inevitable if we are to successfully achieve this more sustainable society, so we must learn to produce and consume in a new way.

A gradual process of change and learning in society is through the practice of consumption. It is essential that the current process of consumption is re-learned. It would be a process of readjusting to the new society’s attitudes, values and beliefs related to the environment.

Electrolux Green range concept vac made from plastic found at the sea

However, in the race and practice to achieve sustainable consumption, one should not forget the current unsustainable consumption, which should be studied and understood for a further implementation of a sucessful sustainable consumption now and in the future.

The emphasis on consumption is because Manzini believes that the most difficult part of achieving a sustainable society is changing the attitude of the consumer, since this attitude is a lifestyle product of individual experiences and personal opinions and covers the population of billions of people in the world.

Moreover, changes in aspects of design and technology are easier because they involve objective and factual findings and goals, within an industrial environment of change and innovation governed by national and international environmental standards.

But mentioning consumption raises another issue: sustainability must be consumed to be learned? And, if so, do those who have no economic power as consumers learn to live sustainably as well? Consuming it would buy the experience of a product, service or system development.

Volt- Electric car from Chevrolet, showing the way to sustainable cars

Again, will only those who can consume be entitled to a sustainable society, as things are today? There is a real risk of having an  global green elite, against the core objective of sustainability itself, as a fair and equitable society for all.

We define consumption as our relationship with the culture and surrounding material. What is clear is that our relationship to material culture is sick, and the path to sustainability would be a way to fix this relationship. The question “Why do we consume what we consume?” is now a major topic in the field study of consumer behavior.

For all cited above, Ezio Manzini believes that three elements must change: the social structure, consumer behavior and cultural acceptance.

We can also cite the ideology, which can be defined as a set of beliefs and values, each person had their own ideology to form a pattern of individual consumption.

Therefore, the social structure, under pressure from social – environmental – economic responsibility and citizenship, would lead to a change of ideology (from current ideology to green ideology) in which the concept of sustainability would begin to be part of this new set of beliefs and values, and then helping to rebuild a consistent new pattern of consumption more friendly to the environment.

E-up car from Volkswagen, electric car due to 2013, changing paradigms about transportation in the cities

Cultural acceptance is also important, the consumption of green or sustainable products must give consumers a cult status, differentiation begins to happen today.

A sustainable society will happen one day hopefully, and we designers have a vital role in this transition, setting a new world and changing consumption patterns and lifestyles that are consistent with this new reality


This article is originally published in on BDxpert – Brazilian Site about Design

About the author: Marcio Dupont is an industrial designer and sustainability analist( design and consumption). Contact him through his LinkedIn profile

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Nachiket M. Raut July 1, 2011 at 3:04 pm

Thanks! I like your thinking and concept . It is very helpful for product design stunds, I also learned from your concept


Maruf September 17, 2011 at 7:10 pm

It is very helpful for product design students, many people will be helpful by your concept .Thanks!


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