What Is Social Impact Design And Why It Matters

Designers can create an impact in many different ways. By protecting the planet, by protecting people, or by advancing the human race through developing new innovations. Our extraordinary creativity is what separates us from other species so let’s start using that to help people and the world instead of using it to bring empty happiness and destruction.  

Unquestionably, designers and creatives play a huge role in our society. Unfortunately, many of them don’t even realize this. Let’s change that! Designers and creatives must realize the great role they play in society. They could really help the world and people in so many ways. Sustainable design and social-impact design are just a couple of examples.

Today, I want to go into social-impact design in a bit more detail because I feel it’s important if we wish to live in a truly sustainable and just society. A society cannot be sustainable and fair if it causes harm to other human beings or if it ignores the suffering that exists in the world.

So why design for profit when you could design to change people’s lives. Isn’t that much more fulfilling?

What Is Social-Impact Design?

As the name suggests, social-impact design is about helping people. It’s simply a way to help and protect those who are in disadvantaged situations, underprivileged, or face difficulties in their day-to-day lives. Social-impact design is essentially solving humanitarian problems. Because not everyone in this world has easy access to food, water, or shelter.

While most designers in our modern world are driven by money, social impact designers are different. Rather than helping money-driven companies increase profits and destroy the planet in the process, they create designs that aid people and improve their quality of living.

Of course, not all designers are money-driven. In fact, lately, there has been a rise in eco-conscious designers. Nevertheless, the fact remains that the majority of designers don’t consider their impact on the world because they don’t even realize they have an impact on the planet. 

That is not the case. Design has a big impact on the planet and it’s about time designers realize that.

Designing for social-impact is just one way to create meaningful change and truly make people’s lives better. Not just convincing people to buy stuff they don’t even need just to make yourself rich. That’s neither ethical nor sustainable.

Why Is Social-Impact Design Important?

To answer this question, we must first ask ourselves why is design important. It’s not an easy or straightforward question to answer, to say the least. Unlike science and technology, it’s hard to see sometimes how design could ever help the world in a big way. Particularly since most people think of art and design as just a hobby.

Let me tell you though. Design is all around us and has shaped the world we live in. Without it, we wouldn’t be the civilization we are today. Now, when you add the word ‘social-impact’ before it, we get something that can create an even bigger impact because now the aim is to help others. 

Did you know that social impact design could bring us closer to a more sustainable future? Even though at first glance, it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with sustainability, they are indeed related. Sustainability has three aspects. The environment, the people, and the economy. These three need to be balanced. Otherwise, it can’t be sustainable and it will simply not last. Whatever the design, it must benefit the people and the economy as well as the environment. 

Social-impact design helps with the social side of sustainability and can ensure everyone has equal opportunities, equal rights, and that everyone has a chance to live a comfortable life.

Doesn’t All Design Help People?

Ideally, all designs should help people. Sadly, it’s not how it is. Think about these large companies who continue to design and produce new products for you to buy every month or every year. They are some of the drivers of consumerism. 

Advertising, a form of creativity and design, makes others feel inadequate making the consumers enter the shop and buy things that they believe they need to be happy.

Additionally, the way in which clothes, phones, and other products are being developed in this age of speed is causing the overconsumption of resources, waste engulfing the planet, and making people empty their pockets for a feeling of false happiness.

Someone has to design these products. And while some may think that they doing good and making people happy because they are providing us with new clothes and new gadgets, I think differently.

Don’t fall into the trap. This is not social-impact design. Use your amazing, creative mind for a good cause.

It’s likely that it won’t pay as much as a big company would pay you, but I believe it’s better to do something because you care about it rather than doing it for the money. Follow your ethos, not the money.

How To Design For Social Impact?

So you want to become a social impact designer? It’s not as hard as it may seem. You don’t need some degree or some special knowledge. All that you will need is drive and passion.

First, you need to decide for yourself what social issue you find most pressing. Who do you want to help? There are many people who live in very difficult situations daily and who need your help. It can be quite daunting and overwhelming at first because when you dive into it, you realize just how many people are suffering.

But once you know where you want to get started you can start researching existing agencies and causes that are designing with intent. There are many agencies and businesses, big and small, who are doing their best to help in some humanitarian cause. Not all design agencies’ main goal is profit. There are many whose priority is helping others. You just have to look around and find one that best suits you and your personal mission.

Or if you are motivated enough, why not start your own initiative by starting your own little business. It’s possible to start a small agency or put together a small team of content creators and designers to innovate products and raise awareness of this topic. As long as you keep in mind your ethos and the reason you decided to start it, you will succeed. It won’t be overnight. But no real change can be achieved overnight.

Whichever path you choose, you will be helping people. And no one can put a price in that.

The key to becoming a good social impact designer is to always keep the needs of others in mind. Don’t just design something because you like it. Think hard if it will actually benefit the person you are designing for.

And even though you may feel that your actions won’t make any real difference, trust that you are part of the change and part of the solution. Think long-term. Consider how your design can help your target audience in the years to come.

Types of Social Impact Design

A designer can play two roles. Problem-solve or create aesthetically pleasing designs for others to enjoy and admire. Or both. If every designer combines these two while keeping in mind their responsivity to create a better world, wonderful things could happen. Here are some ways in which you can become a social impact designer.

Product Designer

Product designers have the capability to make products that make people’s lives easier. And I don’t mean create useless products that companies make you think you need. I’m talking about truly sustainable products that can improve the quality of people’s lives or simply help them survive.

Some memorable examples of social impact design include the lifestraw and the one laptop per child initiative. Here are some other social imapct design example which might inspire you to start your journey down this road.

Architects & Urban Designers

Our society and civilization is now based around cities and buildings. But buildings can represent so much more. Architects can help create social change by building for those who live in disadvantaged communities due to the inequality that exists in the world. We can build to help refugees and we can build for justice.

Buildings don’t just have to be slabs of concrete. As well as building sustainably we can build to help others and we can build innovative buildings that represent social equality.

Social impact design can also include designing the built environment in general to improve quality of life. For example, creating more green spaces, more opportunities for everyone, and ensuring all design is inclusive.

Or anything else that solves a problem

You don’t have to be a certain type of designer to create social impact. As long as you use your problem-solving skills to help those in need and put a smile on someone’s face, you can be a social impact designer. 

Are you a graphic designer, a motion designer, a filmmaker, a photographer, or something else? It doesn’t matter what skill you have. If you are good at something, then use it for good. Use your voice and your creativity to help those who are unheard or whose voices are ignored. Help those who no one is helping.



Don’t get confused. There’s a big difference between human-centered design and social impact design. While both focus on making people’s lives easier and better, the first often targets the wrong people and it’s what is causing overconsumption in our world. There’s a difference between creating an unneeded product to ‘help’ people in order to increase profits and creating vital designs to help someone’s life.

Don’t get confused by these two. And don’t be mislead by others.

Become a social-impact designer and start making the world a better place. The world doesn’t need any more profit-driven businesses. It desperately seeks creative and innovative leaders who are willing to put the need of the planet and the needs of the people above profit.

However, this is not the only path a designer can take to do good. There are various different types of design that focus on the good of the world which include ethical design and sustainable design. You don’t even have to pick just one since they are alll interlinked.

Sofia Hadjiosif
Sofia Hadjiosif

I've always cared about the planet but never knew how I could use my skills to create an impact. But that's when I decided to start Terra Movement. To get other creatives involved in the climate movement and inspire more people to help the planet and its people.

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