To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what my position on that question is yet. I think it’s basically, “no”. But it depends on whether you emphasise the “help” part or “save the planet” part.
Graphic design alone can’t save the planet, but graphic (and other forms of design) can contribute to the process. Design can influence small behavioural shifts that amount to a big change when multiplied and that can be a powerful mechanism.
Most of the problems we have now are accumulations of many small behavioural changes – everything from packaging to energy usage. The standby light and mode on a TV is a design feature. It’s small and must have seemed like a great design decision at the time. Now we know it leeches small amounts of power in millions of homes and is a terrible waste of energy. So whilst it seems like designers only have the power to make minor changes, we’re in a position to influence behaviours (a highly debated topic at present) that magnify into big change.
Design can, however, make a big difference to individual people’s lives and that has a knock-on effect that is perhaps under-estimated. I plan to talk about some of those ideas and examples.
I hope that will be something different – it’s pretty scary being lined up against the excellent range of other speakers, many of whom are real graphic designers. As an interaction and service designer I think I might have different views, so it will be interesting to see how that conversation turns out.
In any case, it’s not really about saving the planet but our own species. This rock we’re spinning around on will be orbiting the sun long after we’re gone.