10 Design for Good Terms to Know


You’ve decided to design for the greater good, but don’t know where to start.

You’ve heard that the circular economy is the future, sustainable design isn’t enough, and design thinking has undermined design for “real” designers*. What does any of that mean?

Making polarizing statements can get in the way of long-term good. One of the great things about being a creative is how we acquire inspiration from everything we encounter. So it’s not always about something being 100% relevant, but adding new inspiration to our bag of tricks that we can pull from as needed.


So let’s add some new terms to that bag!



People who use a deep-rooted sense of empathy for others, identify a specific problem or opportunity to tackle, and give themselves permission to do something about it.*

If you feel terrible about anything happening in the world right now and are vowing to do something about it… you, my friend, are a changemaker!

Socially Responsible Design

A design process that contributes to improving human well-being and livelihood* by embracing ethical, cultural and humanitarian values*.

Essentially this is the “I want to improve the lives and experiences of people” lens.

Sustainable Design

Meeting the economic, ecological and social needs of the day without impairing the chances or development of future generations.*

Making this the “I want to reduce our impact on the planet” lens.


Systems Thinking

A way of seeing the world as a series of interconnected and interdependent systems rather than lots of independent parts.*

“This leaf is part of a tree that cleans the air we need to breathe which impacts our health which affects our economy…”

Human Centered Design

An approach that focuses on the needs, contexts, behaviors, and emotions of the people that the solutions will serve.* PDF

Designing products for people means maybe we should consider the people?

Design Thinking

A methodology used to solve complex problems and find desirable solutions* through understanding, ideation and implementation.

Funny words, activities, and an unsustainable amount of sticky note usage. But for real: a set of tools to fuel thinking outside of the box.

combination of design thinking graphics from IDEO and the d.school

combination of design thinking graphics from IDEO and the d.school



Learning from and emulating nature’s forms, processes, and ecosystems.*

Umm… nature designed a bunch of stuff already. Like, really well.

Cradle to Cradle

Creating products according to the principles of an ideal circular economy, inspired by nature.*

Earth made it without a landfill for longer than we can comprehend, because waste equals food. We need to take notes.


These are not one-size-fits-all solutions.

The circular economy is one piece of a large puzzle that will restore our world. Sustainability is especially valuable because of the growing recognition and acceptance by those new to the subject. And design thinking is not originally intended for brand identity projects or ad campaigns, but I’m going to go out on a limb to say that knowing more can only make you a better designer.

What’s important is having an understanding of what’s out there, so you can make informed decisions and hold your own when the topics come up.

Remember: you don’t need to be an expert in any of these methods or approaches in order for you and your clients to benefit.

There is so much to learn. Check out the free resources and find local events and workshops. Then you can apply what makes sense to your specialty and make an impact through your work.

AIGA Seattle Changemaker Series

AIGA Seattle Changemaker Series



Below are some great places to start. There are also endless fascinating timelines and articles found on the web (Medium is a rabbit hole in and of itself).

IDEO Design Kit for Human Centered Design

IDEO U for Design Thinking

Stanford d.school for Design Thinking

Biomimicry 3.8

Nature Inspired Design Handbook

Ellen MacArthur Foundation for Circular Design

Circular Design Guide


Ethics for Designers

The unSchool