Humane Design as Instinct

Posted June 29, 2010

As part of the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design’s (ICSID) World Industrial Design Day 2010, I was asked to comment on the theme of “Humane Solutions for a Resilient World.”

Wow. What a thought! Let’s think (or not think) humanely for a second… Is our instinct as designers and humans to continually imagine scenarios where the outcome is positive and compassionate for all other humans, not to mention the other inhabitants on this planet? For the planet itself? Certainly not always, but to describe our world as “resilient” suggests that we may be starting in a positive direction.

Design at its best intelligently advances solutions to human needs and promotes the understanding of complex issues. Now that most of us have access to resources, which allow us to communicate globally – for business, on a whim, or when in need, the assumption is that we can respond globally to the areas and situations that require the most attention.

In this vein, I challenged myself to think of specific examples of design solutions that might be considered humane. Here are a few:

Education:  How can we teach without travelling?  Understand the barriers to learning without the benefit of daily interaction? The Mercy Corps Action Center helps communities around the world, and posts the stories of these communities in engaging videos on their website.  Watch the videos here:

Accelerated aid for major crisis relief:  How can social networks help speed recovery, hasten deliveries, and raise awareness? This has proven effective recently as seen with the efforts to support aid to Haiti, but will this method sustain repeat disasters, and how can it be made better? Would a similar dedicated application for aid or a “channel” on one of these existing networks be more effective?

Design help for those who can’t afford it, but have a great idea:  Here’s an idea alive in our very own NYC! Why is it humane? Because it recognizes that not every person or business can afford design fees, and because experts offer their time to advance great ideas from which many may benefit:

Here are a couple of additional considerations for humane design, from the perspective that sustainability affects all consumers and workers in some way:

Longevity:  What will your cleverly designed product look like next year? In 5 years, 10 years? Many designers consider wholly sustainable products and environments, but few achieve them. Humane solutions include a plan for the most efficient, sustainable practices possible. With proper foresight, the products designed or specified today will eventually live another life as another product. Read the success story of the humble carpet tile:

Design for Tigers:  This one is my favorite, of course, and not just because it’s the most absurd, but because its rationale is foreign and therefore interesting to me. Put yourself in the skin of another one of this planet’s animals. Don’t just think about how a tiger might look in your fancy green running shoes. Think about what she might say to you if she saw you producing them, wearing them, using them, and throwing them away. I mean, a tiger doesn’t need shoes, but would a tiger really think that GLUING SHOES TOGETHER is a good idea? My glued shoes always fall apart, and that tiger laughs at me every time.

As we think in new ways to advance our design goals, whatever they may be, the charge to design in a humane manner towards all animals may be one of the most challenging, but ultimately have the most rewarding impact.


Matt Weisgerber

Matt oversees the overall experience design direction for physical spaces. He sketches ideas, creates concept diagrams, models 3D environments, visualizes, and documents spaces from both an experiential and pragmatic point of view. Matt has played an essential role on a wide range of projects including Verizon, HSBC, and the Statue of Liberty Museum, and prior to joining ESI Design, the NCAA Hall of Fame and Washington National Monument.

Join The Conversation