Why do I design?

Writing

I create because I believe people are essentially good.
Before you click away, just wait. I’m not saying every person in the world behaves in ways that are always good. That is not possible, and I know that. I am saying that each and every one of us has the potential to be and do good. That’s the whole reason I get out of bed in the morning, make stuff, and generally live. It’s important to check in with your core motivations once in a while–that way you can tell if you are still on course, as it were.

My logic goes like this:

  1. People have the potential to be and do good. In fact, unless we are stunted in some way, we just naturally tend to do and be good.
  2. Any person can do good by reaching out and helping others learn to tap that potential.
  3. The entire world gets incrementally better the more #2 happens.
  4. There will come a day when everybody born will have a reasonable chance to be and do good.

This is all fine and dandy, but what does the word “good” mean? I am not a philosopher, so forgive any vast generalities, but I think at the very least, being “good” entails the following:

  1. You are kind to yourself (meaning you don’t harm yourself).
  2. You are kind to others (meaning you don’t harm others).
  3. You contribute to society while doing #1 and #2.

Just to be clear, “bad” is not necessarily the opposite of this “good.” If a person is addicted to drugs, he is not bad so much as seriously dysfuntional. I am still trying to figure out if I believe in evil–look at the shootings in Colorado. Is that perpetrator simply evil, or is he massively twisted into a state of not-goodness? Can someone be irredeemable, or is everyone worth trying to reach? Ugh, it sometimes keeps me up at night, thinking about it.

There is more to life than just contributing to society at a basic level. There is the state of being wherein you contribute to the best of your ability, at the top of your particular, individual form. There are great theories on this state, as found in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. This is the state I am shooting for, it’s what I think every person capable of thought should be helped to reach. This, this is why I create on every front of my work. On the one hand, I hope to help others reach their fullest potential, and on the other, I am trying to reach my own. It’s win-win. Thus the world slowly notches upwards on its spiral, and eventually it will evolve on the whole into a better place than it is now. Just think of how far we have come–on the front of illness, think of polio, or the guinea fly. We have made progress, however small. Better to be a part of the upward evolution then part of the grinding friction that slows us down as a whole.

How can I be so optimistic about humanity as a whole? Because I look at the units of which it is made up: individual humans. We crave stimulation, and our natural tendency is towards reciprocal altruism. We want to improve ourselves and one of our best and most used strategies is to do things that benefit ourselves and those around us, especially those we love. We continue to improve (or are at least capable of improving) throughout our lives, barring illness or serious misfortune.

Graphic design and visual art are the avenues I found first for self-expression, and they led me deep into working to make the world a better place in my own little way. But teaching has been absolutely instrumental in getting me to truly give back while adding to my own knowledge pool.

What gets you out of bed in the morning?

All of this leads me to the point of this whole essay: what about you? What is your core philosophy? I’m not looking to argue it out at all, I just want to know. Are you on the path that you intended to be on in your idealistic youth? What beliefs have you discovered as you have moved on? What books, ideas, or people have influenced you? Where have your ideals led you? Please leave a comment below, or email me your thoughts.

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Libby Clarke is an artist, designer, and educator living in Maplewood, NJ. She received her BFA in Printmaking from James Madison University and her MFA in 2D Design from Cranbrook Academy of Art. Professionally, Libby has worked as an interaction art director for over 15 years for such companies as Agency.com and Scholastic.com. She was an Assistant Professor at the New York College of Technology in Brooklyn, New York. She also served as the Director of the Studio School of the Visual Arts Center of New Jersey. As an artist, Libby has produced a series of multi-media conceptual products under the name Monstress Productions since 1996. She gives workshops and lectures across the United States on the intersection of art, activism, and technology, and her pieces are exhibited and collected internationally.