What is social design?

Society leads us to believe that becoming more and more “connected and social” is positive. Managing our various pages, curating our personal “brand”, filtering the good, in many ways social media becomes a shiny façade of how we want people to perceive our lives. It’s less real and more window-dressing. At the same time, companies are chasing users for “likes”, shares and retweets by producing content and hoping people engage. But what type of relationship is really created? Is it just perpetuating a mutually superficial existence?

Don’t get me wrong, this is not an anti-social media piece. We feel all of our connectivity and applied tech should be enhancements, not replacements, for having and making real experiences. Social media is an amazing tool that enables us to share happenings in real time or to reminisce, celebrate or commiserate afterwards. Social design is a method for understanding how and why people connect to each other and their environment. Events, digital, social media, public spaces, sponsorships, partnerships and collaborations are engagement tools to create experiences and invite active participation.

“Humans are designed to be doers, not watchers”
Douglas van Praet

Experience matters

Communities are thriving through shared passions. Just look at the explosion of music festivals… In the US alone, a recent study by Eventbrite finds that one in five millennials report attending a music festival in the past year, twice the rate of the general population. 8% of the social media chatter is about a specific artist. The rest is about the lineups and the experience itself. According to IEG, LLC, in 2014 corporate music sponsorship balooned to $1.34 billion as a result of companies trying to get in on the action.

We focus on the doing. If done right, the sharing will follow. Social design allows us to understand what motivates people and then facilitate participation—be it with each other, a cause, a brand or their own initiatives.

Being meaningful creates emotion and grows business

People are demanding more from companies wanting them to make tangible improvements to our lives by making things easier, more efficient, healthier or faster. It’s not about asking people to “like” something, but building relationships through honesty, inclusiveness and making a real contribution.

Questions like “What does company x want from me? What do they stand for? Why should I listen, and furthermore why should I let them into my life?”  are all being asked consciously and/or unconsciously. If there’s no answer beyond “We just want you to buy more”, you should think again. Everyone understands companies need to sell, but developing trust goes beyond commercial intent. When was the last time you befriended someone who was only out to use you?

People respond when companies are genuine. Out of 1000 brands across 34 countries and 12 different industries, a Havas Media Group study revealed that top meaningful brands double their affinity scores and have an annual share return 7x higher than the STOXX 1800 global stock index.

“These brands [with purpose] accounted for half the company’s growth in 2014 and grew at twice the rate of the rest of the business.”
Paul Polman, CEO, Unilever


Social design is more than doing an event or making social media content

Providing the right platform to bring people and companies together is at the core of developing social design strategy. It’s about understanding what motivates a community into action. How can they input? What are the roles? Are the benefits mutual?

In asking these questions, we find ways to create ongoing engagement that both enhances people’s lives and achieves economic success. For us, this is social design. It fuels the way we approach sponsorships, partnerships, interactive technologies and activating communities.

In the coming weeks we’ll take a closer look at the positive impact social design is having on companies, cities and communities.

Next time: The social design process

Making the ‘smarter’ world more human.

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