It is my belief that adolescence is the most difficult age to endure. Not for angst, as one might assume, nor the incessant torment of existential uncertainty or the insatiable void of unresolved identity. Rather, adolescents are trapped in between the intellectual capacity to understand stupid decisions and the youthful obligation to rebel. Thus, if a parent or guardian insists, “Do not walk around the city in bare feet, you’ll step on a needle”, what choice does the youth have but to walk around the city barefoot? As stupid as they may recognise this decision to be, the alternative does not bear thought. Though of course purely hypothetical (what can I say?–the example just came to me), we each lived this season of our lives with questionable sagacity. Yet despite shared trauma, Big Tobacco takes advantage of this phenomenon by targeting the resignedly rebellious youth population [Carpenter et al. 2005].
The Partnership For A Tobacco-Free Maine (though they do not abbreviate, we’ll call them TFM) is a top-down, state funded, youth targeted anti-tobacco initiative which illustrates the core flaws in methodology for social design today. Through a poorly designed web-interface, the initiative prioritises health impact awareness, announcing the damning effects of tobacco, the psychology of youth-influence and the evil of the industry, with no academic support. Though their practical initiatives, such as the LifeSkills Training program or the Real Talk About Smoking video, have had some success, they bypass the crux of the issue; the prohibition of tobacco increases its appeal [Johnson et al. 2003]. Credit where credit is due: their programs in response to the detrimental health impact of the industry have been more significant, providing services to assist in overcoming addiction, and training healthcare providers to do the same. Their counter-marketing and awareness campaigns have been effective in their base purpose, to reinforce the health risks of tobacco, but even so, they’re locked in the past and fail to address present challenges.
Big Tobacco spends millions of dollars on slick marketing tactics to replace those customers who die from using their product or who have quit smoking. –TFM
What has design to learn from the experience of TFM? Conventionally, our inclination has been to draw a direct line from problem to solution; from a lack of awareness to mass-marketing. Yet the vacillation of society interferes with this rigidity, as typified by the shortcoming of TFM. Brown offers a new lens through which to consider our approach to wicked problem solving, “Design thinking taps into capacities we all have but that are overlooked by more conventional problem-solving practices. It is not only human-centered; it is deeply human in and of itself.” [Brown 2009]. Drawing from this order, by prioritising people and celebrating their expertise and values, we construct a methodology unconstrained by traditional faults. Fluid, inclusive, collaborative, thorough and equitable, deeply human design offers an approach to challenge Big Tobacco and positively redesign our world.
Perhaps we never quite overcome our youthful defiance. I, for one, recall fondly my return home, triumphantly unshod and needle free. Still, it would be a comfort to know that those redesigning our world were doing so for our sake… designing to protect the vulnerability of our obdurate orientation between a rock and a hard place.
Brown, T. 2009, Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation, HarperCollins Publishers, New York, NY, p. 4.
Carpenter, C. M., Wayne, G. F., Pauly, J. L., Koh, H. K., Connolly, G. N. 2005, ‘New Cigarette Brands With Flavors That Appeal To Youth: Tobacco Marketing Strategies’, Health Affairs, vol. 24, no. 6
Johnson, J. L., Bottorff, J. L., Moffat, B., Ratner, P. A., Shoveller, J. A., Lovatoc, C. Y. 2003, ‘Tobacco dependence: adolescents’ perspectives on the need to smoke’, Social Science & Medicine, vol. 56, no. 7
The Partnership For A Tobacco-Free Maine 2017, Tobacco Free Maine Home, Augusta, viewed 15 December 2017, <http://www.tobaccofreemaine.org/>