INEQUALITY – THE NEW BLACK FOR DESIGNERS?

Announcing her run for presidency Hillary said it herself: ‘The deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top’. And referring to the present situation in the Mediterranean, where thousands flee from the poorest to the richest parts of the world, the use of the word ‘deck’ receives an entirely different meaning.

There are many good reasons for Hillary wanting to address inequality. Richard Wilkinson, Proff. Em. from the University of Nottingham, and many other scientists, provide evidence that economic inequality is harmful to all of us – not only to people at the bottom of the economic hierarchy. The scary truth is that in countries with high income inequality there is a higher risk that your kids will die, and that your youngsters will drop out of school with lower math skills and literacy. In addition, you can expect to spend more time in jail and to die a lot younger, while living your life where trust is a limited resource. Moreover, you might have to move to the Scandinavian countries if you want to live the American dream, because there social mobility is a reality – not a dream.

So, inequality accounts for life’s that are worse than they need to be, for a distributed feeling of unsafety, for lack of trust and for waste of money and resources in the societies effected by it.

The scary truth is that in countries with high income inequality there is higher risk that your kids will die, and that your youngsters will drop out of school with lower math skills and literacy.

Inequality is a wicked challenge and proper systemic solutions must comprise redesign of large-scale systems like tax systems, minimum wages, organization of labor marked, marked regulations systems and the likes. However, as we all know, most of these systems are designed and regulated on national and cross-national levels by politicians and diplomats.

So do designers have anything to add to an equal distribution of wealth?
Actually they do. I see at least four related challenges where designers could be part of the solution.

Firstly: Visualize the facts of inequality
Behavioral economist Dan Ariely have shown large discrepancies between the factual inequalities, the amount of inequality we imagine and the equality we actually want, and have thereby identified a huge knowledge gab, which must be closed to provide solid basis for any solutions.
The thing is that the knowledge and data is out there but difficult to access, which opens an important role for designers with the capacities to create visualizations of data and systems for its distribution.

Secondly: Design to break down social barriers
Another issue in inequality is also a communication issue – but on a much more individual level. An associate professor at Harvard named Michael Norton believes that one of the reasons of continuous inequality is that that people do not realize the size of the gap between rich and poor. The reason for this is that we all tent to stay within communities of people from the same income group as us selves and simply do not know and understand the challenges of others.
Therefore if designers could engaged in designing systems and services that encourages cross economy encounters among people, it would be a small step on a long and windy road.

Thirdly: Design a new approach to public schools
UN has established education as the most important factor of social mobility. Furthermore, education is a universal human right. In 2013 architect, Alejandro Aravena designed a social housing project in Monterrey, Chile, that profoundly changed social housing from a cost to an investment. Imagine if this is done for public schools and that, we could establish desired public school that all would love to attend.

Therefore if designers could engaged in designing systems and services that encourages cross economy encounters among people, it would be a small step on a long and windy road.

Fourthly: Design for integration and against discrimination
OECD has established that ‘integration of immigrants and fight against all forms of discrimination reduce inequality’. This means that any designer who engages in designing systems allowing for proper integration or services, campaigns and processes, which will counter all forms of discriminations, will take part in the endeavor to lower inequality.

There are more than enough to design in the global effort to address inequality.
The task might seem humongous even scary – but the benefits are on the same scale – so why don’t we just start?

 

Photo: Spencer Platt / Getty Images

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