What Designers Should Do Now

We spoke with more than a dozen design leaders. The consensus? Designing for social reform will be more important than ever under Trump.

What Designers Should Do Now

On Wednesday morning, Americans woke up to the reality of Donald J. Trump as president-elect of the United States. To many, Trump’s victory came as a crushing blow—a sobering conclusion to one of the most polarizing political campaigns in recent history. Yet by the afternoon, in speeches, online, and on social media, people began to turn grief into a powerful call-to-action.


“Don’t get cynical,” President Obama said in his remarks following Hillary Clinton’s concession speech. “Don’t ever think you can’t make a difference. . . . Fighting for what is right is worth it.”

That sentiment was echoed yesterday throughout the design community. Designers tweeted their resolve to continue to working for change and supporting the groups that will need it the most under the new administration. Meanwhile, on Design Observer, graphic designers Michael Bierut and Jessica Helfand published an op-ed on moving forward after the election that concluded with: “The voting may be over, but the work is just beginning.”


Over the previous months, designers became an integral part of guiding and facilitating the onslaught of visual messaging during the election season. We saw Jennifer Kinon and her team of designers at the Clinton campaign quietly roll out one of the most sophisticated campaign design strategies in history. Other designers developed their own messaging, launched grassroots campaigns, led meaningful discourse about designing for impact, and, in general, made work that reflected their beliefs and ideals in support of a stronger, more accepting America.

But that work doesn’t begin and end with presidential candidates. And as many designers have expressed, with a Trump presidency, using design in support of social progress will be more important than ever. We reached out to leaders in design fields—from graphics and interaction design to architecture and urban design—to ask about next steps for the design community, post-election. The resounding response? Social reform has never been more important. Or as designer Debbie Millman put it:

1. Get your business in order.

“Government may now become limited. As designers and small business owners, we need to be responsible. Consider health care. Understand salary. Hire meaningfully. Great art can activate whatever it is that has gotten lazy in this country. Great craft can make the flow of information more accessible and inclusive. And great management will build up our profession. It’s time to push from the bottom up. It’s time to be transformative in our business and our craft, not just our expression.”–Jennifer Kinon, design director for the Hillary for America campaign


2. Work to heal.

“For many years the design profession has been looking for a larger purpose than making things look good. Our next role is to be part of a process that heals our country and creates an atmosphere of generosity.”–Milton Glaser, graphic designer

3. Double down on inclusion.

“Trump clearly struck a chord with certain people. We have to remember that these are the people we need to communicate to—not ourselves. We have to see things through their lens in order to bridge the divide.


“Design should be a welcome mat. It should reach out and shake hands. We need to remember to welcome people inside, so they can receive the message. It’s time to double down on inclusion in design, even if it means reaching across that uncomfortable divide. We need to keep our political and sentimental proclivities in check—if we start from our own belief system, some will not even open the door.”–Kim Rees, co-founder, Periscopic

4. No really. Double down on inclusion.

“After seeing the legibility of the election’s results–and the connected spatial and divided geographies of urban versus rural, the coasts versus middle America, and of white versus black versus latino, and many others, I appreciate the charge to the ‘revolutionary act of knowing others.’ This is a conversation that is needed, and it cannot only happen in the space of the media and social media and politics. It needs to also happen in spaces and places where we all live, work, play, and connect. Our shared nation is as tangible as Main Street and as real as our many different types of homes, workplaces, and public infrastructures and facilities.”–Justin Garrett Moore, executive director of the NYC Public Design Commission

5. Confront your privilege.

“Now more than ever, designers need to confront the actual economic and social systems we work within. We need to confront our privileged ability to capture leaders’ attentions, and acknowledge that most people don’t have that power. We need to use our comprehension of intentionally exclusive codes, policies, and economic models for inclusion, translating the complex language for those marginalized from the very systems we help coordinate. We need to ask, quite literally, whom do we work for, because social justice no longer has an advocate at the top.”–Garrett Jacobs, executive director, Open Architecture Collaborative


6. Make social networks suck less.

“We need to create online social networks that do not foster over-simplification of complex problems, that don’t let us hide within the closed ranks of our chosen network, that don’t give us the option for easy outs by posting inane gestures of allegiance without meaningful action to back it up. Ultimately, we need to foster meaningful conversation and exchange between people with different points of view.”–Paddy Harrington graphic designer and founder, Frontier

7. Go high.

“For those who opposed Trump, we have to show him that there’s a better way than the methods he used to gain office, which frankly were shameful. One of the lessons that I’ve learned in life is that the only way to get anything done with other people is to always assume that they want what’s best for everybody, too. If you don’t do that, if you don’t at least start with that assumption, then you are sabotaging yourself as much as anyone else. I suppose that means we have to give him a chance.”–Khoi Vinh, graphic designer

8. Do something you’ve never done before.

“Yes, we’re disappointed, but as designers, we have to do something about it. We have to take risks and push to do things that haven’t been done before. We have to amplify voices and communicate clearly. Designers have to work harder and shine brighter. We have to lead the way.”–Bobby C. Martin, graphic designer and cofounder, The Original Champions of Design


9. Focus on design for the public realm.

“We who believe in an open, just, and civil society will not go quietly into the night. We must continue to advance the values of liberté, égalité, et fraternité that undergird metropolitan life and global civilization. As an architect my focus will redouble on the design of the public realm, on new civic and cultural institutions that heal division, on the new tech agora that galvanizes collective action, and on territories and infrastructures that enable social friction, combat ignorance, build equity, and help to create a new global urban ecology.”–Vishaan Chakrabarti, architect and founder, Practice for Architecture and Urbanism

10. Love trumps hate (in art).

“It’s not time to mock Trump or bash his supporters. It’s time to use your skills to make art in support of others, to encourage empathy, to show love and support for those who will be hit hardest by extreme conservative policies. And use your dollars and time to support organizations that fight for the rights of women, LGBT, people of color, Muslims, recent immigrants, and everyone else feeling afraid for their future today.”–Jessica Hische, type designer and illustrator


11. Practice sustainable design wherever you can (because you can’t rely on the government to mandate it for you).

“People in the design profession love problems. That’s what we live for. We are problem solvers. [The election of Trump] may actually accelerate that. Congress has been in gridlock and at loggerheads with the executive branch for four years. So all the action (designing and planning for climate change) has already moved toward the private and professional sector. Now there’s even more urgency at the state and local level, with the federal government declaring they’re stepping out of the picture. It’s a complex design problem, but the more complex the design problem, the more innovative solution.

“Get educated on all the data, and begin practicing sustainable design. You can practice that no matter who the client is what the budget is. Design is knowledge not costs. Go deeper into the subject matter, and begin practicing on every single project.”–Ed Mazria, founder Architecture 2030


12. Go local.

“As we consider what the U.S. presidential election means for our nation as a whole, we must not lose sight of the positive influence we as architects and designers can have on our local communities. In fact, it is on the local level where politics and policies tend to have the most direct impact on everyday citizens. So while I recognize that there is a great deal of uncertainty in the wake of the election, I take comfort and pride in knowing that we, as a community of design professionals, will continue to focus on improving our local communities.”–Phil Freelon, architect and design director, Perkins + Will

13. Design with real empathy.

“Great design is built on insights, empathy, knowing who you are designing for and what problem you are trying to solve. In this election cycle we relied only on data. We were obsessed with poll numbers. We got comfortable with the numbers and forgot the human sentiment.

“As designers we need to make sure that in every election cycle we actually understand the constituents at a deep level. Who are they? Where do they live? Designers understand people; we need to make sure that skill is never lost in an election again.”–Doreen Lorenzo, co-founder of Vidlet and director for the Center of Integrated Design at the University of Texas


14. Embrace differences in your work.

“We need to embrace our differences and continue a dialogue in which both parties, all parties feel heard, and are given an opportunity to move forward. Good design can do this. I’ve often said this: Good design creates good experiences and treats people well, all people.”–Yves Béhar, founder of Fuseproject

15. Act like a human being.

“We will enter economic instability, likely a recession; we will lose talents because no people with the right mind would want to study and work in this country that is dominated by xenophobic and racist ideologies, and many who are already living here, such as myself and the majority of my team, may choose to leave; we will possibly experience more hate crimes; and let’s not even start the whole terrorism paranoia.


“I don’t know what designers can do to move forward unless we, everyone, figure out what we can do as human beings. David Remnick’s article in the New Yorker captures this sentiment well: ‘Despair is no answer. To combat authoritarianism, to call out lies, to struggle honorably and fiercely in the name of American ideals—that is what is left to do. That is all there is to do.'”–Natasha Jen, graphic designer and partner, Pentagram

Are you a designer? We want to hear about how you’re responding to Tuesday’s vote. Write to us at CoDTips at fastcompany dot com.

Reporting contributed by John Brownlee, Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan, Diana Budds, Suzanne LaBarre, Katharine Schwab, and Mark Wilson.


About the author

Meg Miller is an associate editor at Co.Design covering art, technology, and design.


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