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InterviewMar 02, 2022

Why we should celebrate design that makes an impact: Insights from past SoGood Winner Ben Hagon RGD, INTENT

Interview with

INTENT, a Toronto-based design agency, was one of the winners of the RGD's 2020 So(cial) Good Design Awards in the Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion category. Ben Hagon RGD shares his perspective on designing for social good.

The RGD's 2022 SoGood Design Award-winners have been announced!

From your experience, what is your advice for anyone considering entering the 2022 SoGood Awards?

Context is just as important as the work. The winning projects we submitted for SoGood are some of our best work, but they are also related to our most pressing social challenges: Raising funds for a new shelter for victims of domestic abuse; promoting a more diverse, inclusive and welcoming workplace at the Ontario Public Service; writing, designing and producing a guidebook on how to create accessible websites for large Canadian organizations; raising awareness about the value that immigrants bring to Canada. These projects were true portfolio pieces, but the subject matter was also highly important and interesting.

What does design for social good mean to you?

Design for social good means everything to me. In 2013, I reoriented my design firm to work exclusively on projects for social good! It's all INTENT does, it's all we want to do and we can't imagine doing anything else. It means working on projects that have complex, multi-faceted outcomes, not simply about selling products/services/brands. It's vital work and far more rewarding than work for laundry detergent, real estate agents and luxury car brands, at least in my opinion.

Considering how the world has evolved in the past two years, what changes would you like to see in the design industry, either in Canada or internationally?

I am always hopeful that design and communications can help contribute to our social fabric. What we do is so much more than just selling products or billing our time. We only have to look at some of the issues we've had with the COVID-19 pandemic to know that good communications could have helped. Would vaccine hesitancy be lower with better public health campaigns? Would data be easier to understand if the numbers were presented better? Would public health measures have been followed more closely with smarter messaging? I don't have a crystal ball, but I like to think that smart, intelligent, well-designed communications certainly could have helped. If we can prove our worth through measurable improvements, perhaps we can overcome the fear of spending public money on professional consultants. We must also seriously lobby all levels of government to remove "lowest bid wins" clauses in their procurement policies. The quest for the lowest only leads to one outcome: bottom of the barrel work. It's a tragedy. That should be a strong focus for the RGD starting yesterday.

In your opinion, what is the best way for designers to communicate the value of design to non-designers?
I believe we need to talk about helping people overcome specific challenges they have with their work. It could be a three-dimensional challenge such as wayfinding, an accessibility challenge with a website or communicating vital information about public health. Designers are uniquely positioned to help non-designers solve complex problems through the classical design development methodology. This is why the So(cial) Good Design Awards are so important. They highlight real world social issues that designers are helping solve, not just promoting work that has cool typefaces, sexy photography or humorous concepts like so many other awards programs.

What responsibilities do designers have to make a positive impact on our world and communities?

Designers have a significant responsibility to represent our communities authentically. For too long advertisers and marketers have promoted a reality where everyone is young, white and traditionally "beautiful" and/or wealthy. That needs to evolve. Designers working in the social good space have the opportunity to present a reality that is closer to all of our lived experience, one that showcases diversity, inclusion and belonging. It's so unbelievably important that we do not give into traditional advertising stereotypes and begin to more authentically represent real life while still solving our clients' challenges.

Why do you think it’s important to celebrate the work of designers in the area of social good?

I think focusing on social good design work is vital and will encourage designers to look "beyond the shiny" or big money corporate work, or even worse, the fake self-initiated projects that dominate awards shows these days. Until founding my own firm, 100% of the projects I worked on that were recognized by awards were either pro bono work for selected clients or self-promo projects. This does no one any good, least of all the design industry. By focusing on real work that is making an impact on our communities, the RGD is making a real difference to the future of design and the future of non-profit/social good organizations in Canada.


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