Jul 2, 2013

Is it possible that something you see every day could inspire you to make a difference?  This is the concept behind IBM’s Smarter Cities campaign in which they’ve created environmental advertising that is both relevant and functional to start a conversation.  The conversation they hope to spark is how to make your city smarter.  IBM set forth to not only tell people about their mission to “[create] solutions that help cities all over the world get smarter, in order to make life in those cities better” but to also help people live it.  The advertisements are printed on material that is bent into shapes that form benches, ramps, and overhangs. These pieces are placed in areas of the community and then used by the citizens.

On each of these pieces is a simple message, “Smart Ideas for smart cities. Sitting on a smart idea for your city? Share it at”  People sign up online and share their ideas for improvement to cities around the world. The ideas are shared and citizens engage in helping make them a reality.

The concept of IBM’s Smart City ads is so simple. Engage the community by offering them a seat, a ramp for their bike, or shelter from the rain and inspire people to think about change.  Aren’t some of our best ideas born from these simple and brief moments of quiet in our lives?  Many other designers have taken advantage of creating simple environmental design solutions to enact change.

Still shot from IBM's Smarter Cities Ad

Still shot from IBM’s Smarter Cities Ad

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Visitor Center is a great example of information graphics and interactive displays that both engage and move the viewer. The visitor center walks visitors through the history of the foundation and its work across the globe while allowing them to discover and share their ideas along the way. One particular display asks you to “share your cause” and “empowers visitors to contribute their personal voices and ideas” by adding a card to their display.

Oftentimes, the still environment can engage and influence an audience. For example, The Edgless School: Design for Learning exhibit at the Center for Architecture in New York City utilizes design elements that push boundaries and cause people to think differently while engaged in the space. The exhibit challenges viewers to recall the lack of limitation and edges, so to speak, in today’s modern school system.

We are taught in design that form must follow function, as it is more crucial for your design to work or be usable than for it to look nice. A recent speaker at the 2013 SEGD Conference questioned this theory and proposed his own idea:

Emotion > form/function

In these design examples, the form and function are still present; however, the messaging or concept behind the design brings it to that higher level, eliciting an emotional, thoughtful response from the viewer. The IBM pieces, Gates Foundation Visitor Center, and The Edgless School all encompass a new direction we’ve been seeing in the design world – graphics created to elicit a powerful response from the audience and provoke change.