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Themes/Being Human: Design that makes a difference

Air Ink. Photograph: Graviky Labs.
Written by
Oliver O'Keeffe
Published date
22 June 2018

Some of the best design responds to what is important to us as humans. From politics, health or the environment, design has the ability to inform and change opinion.

I’ve picked out a few projects to introduce you to the world of human-centred design. What they all have in common is an awareness of the needs of the general public. The starting point for developing ideas is usually using knowledge and research from personal and common human experiences. There is often a strong focus on collaboration outside the design industry to bring a wider perspective of the world and the issues that need to be addressed.

This is what human-centred design is all about – at its best it can make us change our behaviour for the better and educate us about issues that really matter. Take a look at the examples below to get you thinking.

Air-Ink: Environment

AIR-INK: First inks made from air pollution

Video: Graviky Labs

This pen contains inks made from air pollution captured from diesel engines. It was created by Anirudh Sharma, formerly of MIT Media Lab, and his company Graviky Labs. The power of this project is that it turns a pollutant into a work of art. In 2017 illustrator Kristopher Ho created a mural from the ink that boldly stated ‘This Art is painted with Air Pollution'.

Find out more about the mural on Its Nice That’s website
Explore the project on Graviky Lab’s website

Ministry of Stories: Education

a ball of natural yarn with a label thats read 'fang floss'
Photograph: We Made This Ltd
The ‘Hoxton Street Monster Supplies’ shop was designed by Alistair Hall (We Made This Ltd). It sells a number of weird and fantastical products for a very spooky clientele – monsters! With the customer in mind you can get everything from fang floss to bloodsucker lollipops. Along with these wondrous supplies, the shop also doubles as the UK base for the ‘Ministry of Stories’. Created by author Dave Eggers in the USA, the ‘Ministry of Stories’ teaches young people aged 8-18 creative writing for free, tackling literacy levels and encouraging creativity. All profits from the shop go towards ‘Ministry of Stories’ projects.

Find out more about the project on We Made This Ltd’s website

Hug Machine: Health

an abstract contraption which functions as a 'human squeezer'
Photograph: Therafin Corporation
This ingenious contraption is the ‘Hug Machine’ designed by Temple Grandin to help people with autism deal with anxiety and feel safe. Grandin is an American professor of Animal Science at Colorado State, she also suffers from Autism. The hug machine was inspired by squeeze chuts used on farms to help relax cows while they are being inoculated. The machine works by applying pressure to the sides of the body. This simple design has had great successful in stress reduction in people with autism.

Watch Temple Grandin’s TED talk about autism and creativity

Gilbert font: Diversity

Type With Pride Web

Video: Type with Pride

NYC Pride and NewFest have worked with Ogilvy & Mather’s design team and foundry Fontself to create a typeface in honour of Gilbert Baker the original designer of  the rainbow flag. This fun and colourful typeface holds a powerful message. It champions the colours of gay pride and stands for unity and acceptance of all. The type face is warm and inviting. Where the colours overlap a new complimentary hue is created. This mirrors the openness and acceptance of difference that characterises the LGBTQ movement.

Find out more about the project on Type with Pride’s website

The Mine Kafton: Safety

Mine Kafon | Callum Cooper

Video: Callum Cooper.

The ‘Mine Kafon’ was designed by Massoud Hassani. Via the power of wind the Mine Kafon is designed to detonate undiscovered landmines. This ingenious idea was inspired by Hassani’s childhood in Afganistan. He would play in and around land that was littered with millions of unexploded landmines. The genius of Hassani’s design is that it is cheap to make and once it is assembled the wind takes over. In the film, made by Callum Cooper, you can see paper models he started out with. This project is currently still in the development stage.

Find our more about the project on the Mine Kafon website

Meet Graham: Public awareness

a make-believe mammal sitting in an exhibition space with an 'x-ray app' scanning it's body
Photograph: Clemenger BBDO Melbourne
Meet Graham, Graham is what a human would look like if it were car crash proof. The project is a collaboration between the Australian Transport Accident Commission and Clemenger BBDO Melbourne with trauma surgeon, crash investigation expert and artist Patricia Piccinini. Meet Graham shows us just how vulnerable we are to injury in road accidents.

Find out more about this interactive sculpture from artist Patricia Piccinini

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