Social Innovation, Communication and Language

Seventy-nine Short Essays on Design is a selection of essays written by Michael Bierut for his blog They’re inspiring and stimulating and, definitely, worth taking a closer look at. It is a great source of information not just about design but also about history, politics, sociology, art, architecture, literature, you name it. The book was designed by Abbot Miller. The fact that each essay is set in a different typeface is intriguing and gives the book a special flavour.

Number 2 Why designers can’t think is set in Atma Serif by Alan Green (

The following fragment is particularly interesting:

Nowadays, the passion of design educators seems to be technology; they fear that computer illiteracy will handicap their graduates. But it’s the broader kind of illiteracy that’s more profoundly troubling. Until educators find a way to expose their students to a meaningful range of culture, graduates will continue to speak in languages that only their classmates understand. And designers, more and more, will end up talking to themselves.

Seventy-nine Short Essays on Design by Michael Bierut

Now, the perfect answer to this problem would be Cheryl Heller and her MFA Design for Social Innovation programme at SVA in New York
Cheryl Heller is a communication strategist, she’s a founder of Heller Communication Design and a board member of the PopTech global innovation network.

The following text is a fragment of Cheryl Heller’s lecture that took place in March 2011 at MCU School of Design in Pittsburg.

The lecture Language, Design and Social Innovation is a part of a series of lectures titled How do you design the future?

In human society COMMUNICATION plays an enormous role because we talk all the time, we’ve become communication freaks, everybody has a platform, everybody is a platform, everybody uses multiple devices, everybody is an author, and we have limitless ways for people to be heard but we don’t hear each other and we don’t listen. So, if you imagine, if the communication plays the same role in our society as it does in nature, where it would connect ecosystems and high rockies and create shared ethics, and trigger congruence between Fractions and Truth and Power and Justice and Political Boundaries, …, but this is what our language does, we label everything and then we separate and then we create silos, and even beyond the labels we have labels above the labels, we abbreviate them through acronyms, to make them double (in) meaningless. So, in a service of efficiency we’re murdering language (…) Language creates silos that are artificial boundaries. We do it with everything and it impacts the way we see and the way we touch the world. So, silos between countries, between rich and poor, between generations, between liberal and conservative, between executives and workers, … we have the truth of science, the truth of politics, the truth of religions, and, I hardly need to say that they don’t align. We created this notion of environment that is separated from us and we judge people and we put them in separate categories, and, language creates experts (…)

Language creates war (…)

Language, Design and Social Innovation by Cheryl Heller

The text that follows are the fragments of Margaret Mead’s Warfare is only an invention – not a biological necessity ASIA, XL (1940).

(…) One may hold a sort of compromise position between these two extremes; one may claim that all aggression springs from the frustration of man’s biologically determined drives and that, since all forms of culture are frustrating, it is certain each new generation will be aggressive and the aggression will find its natural and inevitable expression in race war, class war, nationalistic war, and so on. All three of these positions are very popular today among those who think seriously about the problems of war and its possible prevention, but I wish to urge another point of view, less defeatist, perhaps, than the first and third and more accurate than the second: that is, that warfare, by which I mean recognised conflict between two groups as groups, in which each group puts an army (even if the army is only fifteen pygmies) into the field to fight and kill, if possible, some of the members of the army of the other group – that warfare of this sort is an invention like any other of the inventions in terms of which we order our lives, such as writing, marriage, cooking our food instead of eating it raw, trial by jury, or burial of the dead, and so on.Some of this list anyone will grant are inventions: trial by jury is confined to very limited portions of the globe; we know that there are tribes that do not bury their dead but instead expose or cremate them; and we know that only part of the human race has had the knowledge of writing as its cultural inheritance. But, whenever a way of doing things is found universally, such as the use of fire or the practice of some form of marriage, we tend to think at once that it is not an invention at all but an attribute of humanity itself. And yet even such universals as marriage and the use of fire are inventions like the rest, very basic ones, inventions which were, perhaps, necessary if human history was to take the turn that it has taken, but nevertheless inventions. At some point in his social development man was undoubtedly without the institution of marriage or the knowledge of the use of fire. (…)

If people have an idea of going to war and the idea that war is the way in which certain situations, defined within their society, are to be handled, they will sometimes go to war. (…)

(…) The people must recognise the defects of the old invention, and someone must make a new one. Propaganda against warfare, documentation of its terrible cost in human suffering and social waste, these prepare the ground by teaching people to feel that warfare is a defective social institution. There is further needed a belief that social invention is possible and the invention of new methods which will render warfare as out of date as the tractor is making the plough, or the motor car the horse and buggy. A form of behaviour becomes out of date only when something else takes its place, and, in order to invent forms of behaviour which will make war obsolete, it is a first requirement to believe that an invention is possible.

COMMUNICATION DESIGN now is all about content and artifacts created to inform, gain support and educate. COMMUNICATION DESIGN presents the systems with data visualisation, but remains the representation of the systems and doesn’t change them.

COMMUNICATION DESIGN = silo, content, artifacts

DESIGN COMMUNICATION = designing a system of communication

Nature is communicating life saving information, truthful and relevant and we’re not communicating the things we need to know. (…) Social innovation needs design. (…) Designers have the ability to see systems and patterns, and, really, the capacity to be integrators (…)

View a language as a connector not just a way to express yourself.

Language, Design and Social Innovation byCheryl Heller

CHAP. III. 1. Tsze-lu said, ‘The ruler of Wei has been waiting for you, in order to administer the government. What will you consider the first thing to be done?’ 2. The Master replied,’What is necessary is to rectify names.’ 3. ‘So, indeed! said Tsze-lu ‘You are wide of the mark! Why must there be such rectification?’ 4. The Master said, ‘How uncultivated you are, Yu! A superior man, in regard to what he does not know, shows a cautious reserve. 5. ‘If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things. If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success. 6. ‘When affairs cannot be carried on to success, proprieties and music will not flourish. When proprieties and music do not flourish, punishments will not be properly awarded. When punishments are not properly awarded, the people do not know how to move hand or foot.

From The Analects of Confucius

By Confucius

Translated by James Legge


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