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Ask HN: What pressing world problems should a graphic designer work on?
42 points by softwareqrafter on July 10, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 47 comments
I went through the 80,000 hours (https://80000hours.org) course and felt inspired to do work that matters (rather than just design some stuff for boring corporate companies). As a designer, what would be a pressing problem that I could work on and potentially even get compensated for the work in order to stick with it and pay the bills (so helping out a nonprofit with design might be fun, but it's not sustainable)

I work for a company called Mark43.

We make software to help police officers do their jobs more efficiently - our applications literally help save lives. There's a lot of interesting design challenges - for example, emergency dispatchers look at our CAD (computer aided dispatch) software for many hours on large monitors.. how do you design it so their eyes don't get tired?

And then cops look at the same software on their laptops, as they're driving to respond to an emergency.. how do you make a notification "suspect is armed" stand out so they notice it among all other data?

We are looking for designers to help us solve these and other problems:

Product Designer: https://www.mark43.com/careers/700918/?gh_jid=700918

Sr. Product Designer: https://www.mark43.com/careers/119568/?gh_jid=119568

(New York City)

Why do you call the position "product designer" when it is definitely asking for UX designers? I mean, when I think "product designer" I think industrial design, but this is clearly on the software side.

Ah, I guess this is common confusion; from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Product_design:

> Product design is sometimes confused with (and certainly overlaps with) industrial design, and has recently become a broad term inclusive of service, software, and physical product design. Industrial design is concerned with bringing artistic form and usability, usually associated with craft design and ergonomics, together in order to mass-produce goods.[4] Other aspects of product design include engineering design, particularly when matters of functionality or utility (e.g. problem-solving) are at issue, though such boundaries are not always clear.[5]

A digital product designer is basically a UX designer with knowledge of product management. While UX rely only on the user experience and the constraints of the user environment, the P.D. have to incorporate (and understand) business requests, production workflow, ect.

That really isn't different from what a UXD already does, and it definitely doesn't require any ID skills. You might want to cast your net for just plain old UXDs, rather than people who have been trained specifically in product design (if there is indeed a real specialty there, I doubt that's true).

> how do you make a notification "suspect is armed" stand out so they notice it among all other data?

Can we make "please don't shoot random black people" a notification that they'll notice?

I saw Mark43 a while ago and haven't been able to stop musing about it since - I think it would be rewarding work knowing if you excel at your job you're helping save lives and reduce risk!

Healthcare user experience sucks. Last century kind of sucks. Find a job at Cerner or Epic who account for more than half of all hospital information systems and help clinicians avoid tragic errors, make faster and better decisions, understand health records more clearly, capture ideas/observations/memories.

I just left a healthcare company very similar to Cerner/Epic. The healthcare user experience sucks because the parties involved want it to suck.

Older doctors are highly resistant to change and will look for any opportunity to condemn your product. The nurse's unions will stop you in your tracks for taking away duties that a nurse should be doing (we had a client tell us we couldn't auto-fill date fields with today's date, the nurses had to do that). Patients with chronic illnesses do not want to use any apps at all, they have tried program after program over the years and are sick of hospitals forcing them to hop on and off a platform every 2-3 years (our diabetes app failed in trial because users didn't want to do anything but talk to the doctor).

Give healthcare another 10 years for the generation to turn over.

Cerners longtime CEO and founder recently passed away. It's unfortunate one of his legacies will be how NOT to communicate via email[1]. It's also unfortunate the culture he fostered never erred far from this aggressive, intimidating, almost abusive pattern. It was one of the most toxic environments I ever worked in[2].

[1] http://holtz.com/blog/business/threats-and-intimidation-wont...

[2] source: me, contractor 2015-2016.

A friend of mine used to be a QA at a prominent children's hospital. The departmental interoperation was terrible[1], and every department used its own software. There was no hope of unifying the software, because every head of department had their own preferred software (often because of vendor kickbacks), and the hospital CEO was more interested in PR than managing. So any time an interdepartmental solution would be proposed at the heads-of-department meetings, any given head of department would nix it with "if we use that software, children will die". Of course everyone knows that was a lie, but that head of department was the final authority for it.

[1] A different friend was trying to get his son in for an appointment. The relevant department asked him to fax some forms to get the appointment; the phone was not enough and email wasn't an option. Fax! Forms were faxed... they asked them to be refaxed all in one stream! Faxed all together... they asked for the forms to be faxed in a particular order! At this point, he went to another hospital.

>Give healthcare another 10 years for the generation to turn over.

Anything for a Win10/Modern web EMR. Good lord, all of them suck and are ancient monoliths by now.

I work for the OpenEMR project which has a strong commitment to User Experience and design.

The last release 5.0.0 implemented Bootstrap 3, but we are trying even more design enhancements for the next minor release.

A good quote from the book "Hacking Healthcare" by Fred Trotter is: "[I] state categorically that healthcare benefits from open source more than any other industry."

If you want to improve Healthcare in the US please join the OpenEMR project. There are a lot of good OS healthcare projects out there but few that are fighting for the highest level of regulation compliance along with being really good to use software.


(rather than just design some stuff for boring corporate companies)

Picking a company you can believe in and going to work for their design department is probably the best way to make a positive difference in the world while also being able to pay the bills. Plenty of companies are doing "good work" in the world. The world would be a vastly worse place without business as usual for all kinds of products. Improving some of those products can make a meaningful difference.

There is plenty of time to think about how to make a really serious difference. It doesn't have to be solved today. After you get a bit of experience, you can pivot to something that you feel fits that criteria.

I tend to not like these types of questions because a bunch of internet strangers are generally speaking not somehow magically more qualified than you are to decide how to make a "real" difference in the world. The short list of people with such answers are typically working on them in some way and it often doesn't pay the bills.


There's a general design problem of translating abstract massive problems (like world hunger) into something bite sized that people can relate to and act on (like feed one starving child). Vast problems like climate change, water shortages, human trafficking, drug abuse, systemic poverty, lifelong education, criminal justice. If you can help on this challenge, you can drive change and make a career for yourself.

City Planning software is something I've been humming over a lot and for a long time. It's a perfect problem for computation with statistics - figure out practical actionable things for cities to do when optimising for things like walkability, public transit available, available storefront-rentals, et cetera. The world is catching up on the western nations, and the millions of cities joining the global middle class can be billions of dollars more efficient. A true way to better the world. The computational parts are doable (I'll be tech cofounder if required - not a visual artist though) but how is it best used?

I wonder what the chinese do WRT city plannin given the amount of building they have been doing, and if walkability plays a role in their designs, and what they use for said designs.

There's been a lot of visible experimentation, but I've not seen anything indicative of a definitive strategy. I would be curious to know if there were any lessons learned from replicating old world European towns.

It is my understanding that Barcelona and its superblocks often serves as a showcase for great city planning: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2016/may/17/superblocks-r...

Of course this isn't a natural or old layout however.

It's also an example of failed city planning! The original Cerdà Plan was considerably more human friendly:


I'm guessing you have very high earning potential. It is almost certainly the case that the most impact you can have is achieved by focusing on earning as much money as possible and donating as much of it as possible to organizations optimized for making impact. But most people seem to want to optimize the feel-good hands-on impact instead of the total objective impact.

The term for this effective altruism strategy is called https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earning_to_give

Anything in the public sector, like utilities' and local governments' websites (cough DMV), websites for your local library system, websites for your local law enforcement and/or hospital, public schools. The usability of these sites tends to suck because they're subject to budget cuts, even though thousands of people have no choice but to depend upon them.

Not sure about compensated but tools for the blind/deaf to allow them to experience the everyday design we take for granted

I came here to say "accessibility". It's a major weak point of a lot of software and technology.

Something about "graphic designer" and "blind" doesn't go together for me...

Legally blind and professionally employed full-time designer here. :) (Granted - "blind" can be a spectrum of things; for example, extreme nearsightedness but still "seeing", vs truly blind.)

Seconding the major need for accessibility awareness, though. Even little things like increased font color contrast has major payoffs for the elderly and other buckets of populations.

Better user interface, websites and documentation for free software and open source.

Many people are making suggestions, I'll make a meta-suggestion:

Try and rank your options, and remember that it'll probably look like a power law distribution.

See the two graphs under this section: https://80000hours.org/career-guide/world-problems/#how-to-w...

Many of the companies suggested sound good, though if you're really optimizing for impact, the best one will probably have more impact than all the other suggestions combined. No pressure!

Content for school kids aged 5 to 9. There isn't much out there for them. Anything interactive and imaginative.

Take a look at the curriculum for ideas of what teachers want to teach, most schools have laptops, chromebooks or iPads.

Are you by chance in that industry somehow? I'm (as a designer) with an organization that's looking to break into this very kind of niche - it's almost the other end of the problem ironically; we have plenty of resources, but very little insight in how it should be applied. Are there .pdf examples online that you would point to as a good base? Would you say the content needs to be different for parents vs teachers, and if so, what would most helpful for each?

(Thanks for the comment!)

I've thought about you question for a couple of days. I'm not sure what you can do that other companies are not already doing.

For example we use the exam board AQA for computer science. They give you: http://www.aqa.org.uk/subjects/computer-science-and-it/gcse/...

which is tons of stuff to plan and teach computer science for 3 years.

But some of it is pretty crap.

If I were you I'd do something similar for primary schools, for example my son has had topics on volcanoes, american indians, the oceans etc. Find out what topic teachers what to teach, the create good resources that code english, maths, science etc all inside that topic. Give them clear lesson plans that cover say 8 weeks of work. Make them so cool and so easy and so super interesting that teachers fucking love you.

Remove all the pain points: - marking REMOVE THIS - testing AUTOMATE THIS - creating and cutting up resources e.g. a puzzle for each student.

so create a giant crate of stuff, ship it to the teacher quickly - if I order it in a panic on friday have it there for me on sunday so I can rip it open, read "lesson 1" and go.

make it cheap so if it saves me time and effort I'll just buy it with my own money.

Make it shareable - let other teachers in my school use it for free.

etc. talk to a teacher, sit down with them, buy them dinner and a pint and LISTEN to them. If they moan about marking until 3am every day, SOLVE that issue. If they moan about stupid testing that punishes kids of low income families FIX THAT PROBLEM. Invent a smart way of revising/testing that solves it. I imagine you already have 20 ideas on how to do that.

If the class needs an iPad or two to connect to your app/website - SHIP IT IN THE CRATE, ask for it back once the topic has finished.

You want the teacher to open the crate of goodies and say HOLY SHIT this is amazeballs.

If there is a cause or issue you feel strongly about, is there a way to illuminate or explain this issue using a combination of graphics and text, in a way that doesn't mislead?

I'm not a graphic designer, but during the recent UK election, I created a site to dissuade people from voting for the Conservative party. One issue I wrote about was our method of voting in the UK. Here is a (fairly rubbish) graphic trying to highlight the results of the 2015 UK election. The fact is that many people simply don't know how our electoral system works or what it's flaws are. Is this diagram clear without any context? (Probably not!)


Here is the article in which the graphic appeared giving additional context:


Often it's impossible to explain a topic or idea without supporting visuals.

Being able to explain things clearly with both text and graphics (whether for campaigning or teaching or persuasion) is a really valuable skill.

If that appeals to you, perhaps this is an avenue you could pursue? But you'll have to find the cause, topic or idea that inspires you.

I always wanted a (relatively) simple mobile application to navigate public transportation in different cities. Basically an interactive map for public transport. They'd be easy to read, easy to understand how connections work, etc. Every city (or even every agency within a city) uses different, and often horrible, diagrams of their lines, like MUNI vs BART in San Francisco.

This is 90% designers problem. The engineering side of this is easy. Hard to say how you'd pay money for it, but if your maps are good, some cities may agree to pay to officially use them.

Google maps kind of does this for you (if you do "directions") but I just don't understand why it doesn't work... It gets me to a subway station and I start searching for the maps on walls.

But if done well, millions of people will be thanking you every day.

We (Zenysis) are a recent YC startup using technology to help Ministries of Health prevent epidemics and distribute vaccines in developing countries. Happy to talk if you want to learn more!

EDIT: We're in public health, but compensate competitively, offer significant equity and provide top-notch benefits.

Job posting on HN: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13727071

Designer role: http://www.zenysis.com/designer.html

Hey there... There are a LOT of ideas out there (for example, I have a vision of a mentoring platform that is stuck in my head).

The thing is... like others on this thread have said, there is a ton of demand. So what interests you?

I have been getting involved with local politics recently, and there is a HUGE need for designers for political clubs, and organizations.

I'd say find something you are passionate about and start volunteering, and if you want to help Progressive Democrats then DM me!

Healthcare! My company is currently looking for a designer that wants to make healthcare beautiful, easy to use, and less error prone. If you really want to dive into a company that is making a difference and really cares about changing things for the better shoot me an email benjamin at triceimaging.com

Americans are dying because our healthcare is too expensive. Not the insurance but the actual tests and procedures. They're all crazy expensive compared to anywhere else in the world. Graphics that really show this clearly could generate political momentum for fixing that.

Does "graphic designer" essentially mean an artist whose job is to create aesthetically pleasing images, or does it encompass UI/UX as well? Most of the advice here seems to assume the latter, but I would not have thought that was the case.

It depends on the job. Graphic Design / UI / UX / Product Design is undergoing a lot of terminology changes and uncertainty brought about by a lack of typical degree out of academia and a shortage of people working in the field. Many companies previously had graphic designers who de facto did the UI/UX/Product Design, while other companies are starting to break up/specify the roles.

Make it security suck less. Security UX is terrible. We need people with graphic design skills to help.

Ask HN: I am but a humble bus driver. I too wonder what world problems I should work on.

Make sure the graphic designers get to work on time!

Do a public campaign to eradicate pie charts.

A lot of great suggestions in this thread. To add to those, I want to talk a bit about how to form a strategy that will help you achieve these goals.

First, not every world problem is solvable with design. Being aware that you are one facet of the solution is both comforting and overwhelming. To have broad impact you often need a team of experts to cover the pipeline from end-to-end, so that means things like solving for the terrible Heath Care experience in the US or UK require massive reformations in how that industry has been run for almost 100 years. On the bright side, there are lots of private clinics aiming to solve this - One Medical is a great example (I promise I dont work for them, just a fan of their approach). If you have the motivation to aim for this level of impact that is awesome, but most likely wont be available to you until you have several years of experience under your belt and area ready to move beyond graphic design and into a role as creative director (like Jony Ive for example).

The good news? You can start planning for that career path today. Start small by targeting industries that you already have experience with, even if that experience is indirect. Got a passion for food culture? Maybe run with that. Seek out reputable companies that are trying to perfect food distribution to restaurants and grocery stores. From there you will start to see the pain points that cause issues like food deserts in inner city areas. Start to slowly invest time on the side volunteering with non-profits and groups that are actively trying to solve for these oversights in the food distribution system. See whats holding them back from making big changes. Regardless of what industry you focus on, assume you will always be spending time on the side volunteering with activist/non-profit groups that are already targeting the crisis at hand.

Your journey now is to marry your charitable 'side-job' with your full-time job, and your choices will hinge on reducing the gulf between the two. One day, they can be one and the same job - and youll see the path towards that goal unfold for you as you roadmap your steps to achieve that goal. Sometimes this means creating your own company - but it certainly doesnt have to be that way. Lots and lots of private companies are stepping up to offer people another option than the current, broken norm, such as One Medical that I mentioned above.

Lastly, Ill echo what others have said about donating your earnings. Ill take that a step further and suggest the idea of working a charity initiative into your regular earnings model. If you are working for yourself - this is a great opportunity to build your passion for giving into your pricing. I love seeing places that actively advertise how much they donate and incorporate a breakdown of that cost into their payment model. The invoices they provide will outline exactly how much of your payment is donated and to what organization. By doing this, these companies are not only making a positive impact, but they are fostering a culture within their industry that values giving-back. Often clients will seek them out specifically because they want to support a company that values altruism and sees it as a sustainable business model.

Sorry for the novel-length post! Ill close with this: just remember - always ask yourself what you can do TODAY, however small it may seem. You may not be Elon Musk, but the path to that kind of impact is created step-by-step with every small interaction. Every relevant experience is a learning experience. Volunteer, find an open-source project, talk to others who are trying to solve problems too, and network with like-minded people. We all start out as little cogs in a big machine, but together we can change the system, one step at a time.


I might not have put it like that myself, but it could well be the case that as a graphic designer in a rich country, the most effective way for you to move the needle is to earn lots of money and give it away efficiently:


Increase people's awareness that they need to wake up. And maybe follow later in the campaign with ways they can empower themselves.

Are you passionate enough to work for low pay or free? I would like to build some web apps to display information about pollution and climate change. If we made it good enough, it would be a great tool for everyone around the world to visualize the problem. Obviously I would not make any money - just something that needs to get done if we are to have any hope of convincing the public that we need climate change policy review.

What say you?

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