When we design for money, we think short-term. We lack empathy, well at least long term empathy. We get an aha. We think to ourselves, "that's how I can make my millions this year!"
It's easy to make a lot of money, if that's all that matters. I mean, watch Gary Vee, he gives you a new way to make money almost everyday and you don't need much to start. People launch small products everyday that sell in the millions and last for a year or two and then the product stops selling. If you do it right, you can launch a cheap plastic product, make a ton of money and walk away in a year or two and no one's the wiser. Except for that fish choking on the little piece of plastic that ended up in the ocean after some kid threw your little product off the pier, the fish knows what you did.
On the other side of the spectrum, we have Design for Good. When we design for good, we solve real problems regardless of money. We start a clothing company making only products that are from hemp, organic cotton, and leather, rather than polyester or nylon. We start a company devoted to making 3D printing filament out of biodegradable hemp plastic. We make products designed to last and be used for a lifetime or more, rather than something designed to last a month or a year and purchased again. Sorry, but the Gillette model has to go.
If you really want to see where this plays out, think about promotional products. Every year, we have more than 13,000 trade shows in the US alone. At every trade show, there are hundreds of booths packed with thousands of junk plastic products they are handing out as a marketing tool for you to remember them by. Isn't that sweet?
So, every year, we dump somewhere in the tens to hundreds of millions of promotional products into our economy for them to be processed and shit into the ground or the ocean or wherever they eventually end up. Sad, right? It doesn't have to end here.
We have technologies and design solutions for issues like this. The challenge is, there is no short or longterm "money" in it. At least it doesn't seem like it. But look at the organic food movement in the US. Consumers were educated on the ground level. They went to the store demanding organic products even if it cost twice as much. How did it start? Advocates and activists. People who cared more about spending their time educating others and making the food reality than they did about making money in the short term.
So the question is, what can you do today?
Maybe today you were thinking about printing some shirts for your business or something like that. Consider where the material comes from, and consider where it ends up. Finding a source for ethical organic cotton shirts or even better, a good hemp fabric... that's hard. I know. I look all the time. Then you realize that the cost is a lot higher than your $5 t-shirt you normally buy, maybe even three times higher. Then you realize that the fabric isn't as soft. Now you are thinking about just buying those cheap shirts and getting it over with. Besides, who has time for this?
This is how bad design choices are made. The thought process should be this:
I know the fabric isn't as soft, so I am going to buy it anyways and get to know the maker of the fabric and talk to them to see if they are working on improving it. If so, I want to help, what can I do? Not to mention that, maybe I know some people who are good at engineering business systems and they can help us bring the cost of the shirts down so that others might be more inclined to support this business and cause. In fact, I should start a facebook group and link all the people I can find who work in ethical fabrics and get all the heads together. After all, aren't we all trying to change the face of textiles in general?
Do you see what I mean? The simplest thing like ordering shirts for your business can become a nexus point of major cultural change. The question is, are you willing? Will you care that extra amount that it takes to see it through? Will you do it, not just because it will make money, but more importantly, because it is the right thing to do?
I think so. I believe in you.
Peace and Love,