Why Design Matters: A Social Marketing Perspective


Why Design Matters: A Social Marketing Perspective

Design is the ordering of elements (color, form, space and words) to make ideas compelling to people. The fundamental premise of social marketing is that people—even poor people—have the right to what they want, as much as society has the right to expect them to care for themselves. Design is at the center of this exchange. It is the designer’s responsibility to understand and address people’s desires—even if those people are poor, uneducated, and powerless. Design does more than attract. It guides us. It makes us laugh and it makes us cry. It scares us and makes us feel we can conquer the world.

Good design simplifies without condescending to banal stereotypes. It organizes and arranges so we know where to look first. It creates contrasts so we can compare and judge for ourselves. Design is central to social marketing because social marketing is about helping people make choices.

Design is too often overlooked, or relegated to the domain of “prettiness,” as in, “make this look pretty.”  But as John Maeda says in his book on simplicity, design “subtracts the obvious and adds the meaningful.”  If we make any mistake in working with great designers, it is calling on their talents far too late in the social marketing process. They are our eyes and often our heart, and we need for them to be with us from the beginning.

-William A. Smith, Ed.D.

———————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————Dr. William Smith has worked for more than 30 years trying to figure out how to help masses of people make positive change in their lives.  He designed and managed programs around the world focused on combating infant diarrhea, immunizing children, saving the environment, and reducing obesity. Bill is also a co-founder of the Social Marketing Institute, a columnist and editorial board member of the Social Marketing Quarterly; the International Journal of Health Communication; and Applied Environmental Education and Communication: An International Journal. He authored a recent book entitled Radio: A Post 9/11 Strategy to Reach the World’s Poor, as well as co-authoring Fostering Community Based Social Marketing. He has published dozens of articles on social marketing and social change. He is co-author of the Institute of Medicine’s Report, Health Literacy: A Prescription to End the Confusion. He received the Alan Andreasen Award for scholarship and practice in Social Marketing and served on the IOM committee on health literacy.