The activist designer?

The activist designer?

In the design magazine Dude, Jeroen Junte, design journalist, made a strong statement. Bottom line: designers consider themselves the right person to solve the Brexit, the climate problem and the refugee problem. But their paper plans and TED-talk puffery often yield no more than a giggly response from the audience. The designer is better off taking the modest role of team player, alongside scientists, for example, Jeroen believes. Design as a sidekick of science.

I agree with him wholeheartedly.

Out of pure self-interest, of course.

By the grace of

I don’t have any awards, and I’m not on a TEDx stage. But “being a team player alongside scientists,” I can tell you everything about that.

An example: the world problem of AMR (antimicrobial resistance).
Jayasree Iyer, executive director of the Access to Medicine Foundation explained crisply why it is a problem, and what we need to do about it. Not with slick “storytelling,” but underpinned by years of in-depth research. She held up the result: the 2018 Antimicrobial Resistance Benchmark.

“Wow, what a report [the foundation] has made. Packed with info, but also aesthetically pleasing, it made me want to read the whole 184 pages in one go. “*

For this powerwoman and her organization, I poured the findings, charts, tables and many footnotes into a form. Together with a strong communications department, web builders and subcontractors. Together? Rather “by the grace of,” because design can only succeed in serving the reader if the writers edit, the web guys keep their code clean and the researchers come and explain their data.**

Typography, lesson 1

Reliability is the most important asset that Access to Medicine Foundation has. Arranging and serving up their knowledge in such a way that it is accessible and increases reliability is the goal. I took (and got) the time to show what typography and strict sizing contribute to that. They bring readability and order. From there, a certain aesthetic emerges.
I say things like, “when you want readers to see what belongs together, remove white. When you want them to separate two things, add white”. Typography, lesson 1 paragraph 1. Omit a dimension from a graph, replace absolute numbers with percentages. Get rid of logarithmic scales.


With dozens of such interventions, something is built that in no way resembles a brilliant creative burst. But it does what design should do: be effective. It makes opinion leaders reach for this report if they want to do something about antibiotic resistance.
It is precisely the best-founded plans, the most scientifically solid ideas that need a good form.
Without form, an idea cannot travel.
Are you a designer and want to improve the world? Go put your effort where it has the most impact.


*a quote from an opinion leader from the AMR field.
** The entire team understood that good design would do their business good. That didn’t come naturally, of course. We worked together for nine years.

Servant design

All-brief message, visual chic, with the Executive Director.