The upcoming World Usability Day (http://www.worldusabilityday.org/) got us thinking about the role of design – and more broadly communications – in encouraging changes in social behaviour.

Taking a narrow definition of education (which may suggest a lack of education!), traditional institutions face the pressures of funding squeezes and trying to keep up with what Will Richardson (@willrich45) terms ‘knowmadic learning’ (www.willrichardson.com) – self-directed, peer-based learning that bypasses traditional models (see, for example the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation (@macfound) Report on Living & Learning with New Media) (http://www.macfound.org/site/apps/nlnet/content3.aspx?c=lkLXJ8MQKrH&b=64...).

Meanwhile, new organisations on the education block, such as Project H (@ProjectHDesign), do a great job working with communities to design new learning experiences (www.projecthdesign.org/) tailored to local environments.
New delivery models try to exploit design and technology. School of Everything (www.schoolofeverything.com) has pretty much everything covered, from Business management to Bollywood & Bhangra Dance, bringing disaggregation to a postcode near you.

Taking a broader definition of education, usability and social change got us thinking about sectors closer to (our) home, for example financial services. Here, providers are starting to make available – to consumers interested in learning more about budgeting, borrowing and saving – some well-designed tools. (See, for example, http://www.nab.com.au/wps/wcm/connect/nab/nab/home/Personal_Finance/1/4/....

Banks like FirstDirect, starting to see the fruits of their investment in social media, are changing the way they work, to learn about design – from their own customers (see http://www.lab.firstdirect.com/live-tests/dotcom-redesign-concepts).

Elsewhere, lobbying organizations such as Amnesty International (@AmnestyUK) deploy social media and email to harness consumer power for social good and educate those with the power to change. Securing thousands of signatures helped persuade Royal Bank of Scotland to stop investing in companies involved in the production of cluster munitions (where the publicly-owned bank was said to have placed around £80 million – see http://action.amnesty.org.uk/ea-action/action?ea.client.id=1194&ea.campa...).

Nike and Apple may get a lot of attention with devices that help people learn more about themselves as they get fitter. But there are also great strides being made in devices that help consumers understand the wider impact of their behaviour, even when they’re lounging round their homes.

On World Usability Day 2011, our virtual mortars go off to those companies deploying great design to help educate consumers and encourage behaviour change, saving energy, money and carbon emissions along the way. (See, for example http://www.energyhub.com/utilities/our-solution/home-base/)

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