Stefan Sagmeister, Khoi Vinh, Ji Lee

In any conversation and communication, listening and understanding the other side are the first steps to a truly meaningful exchange. — Ji Lee

Can design help people adapt to change?

Stefan Sagmeister: If your primary goal is to implement change, the most efficient profession to achieve this is politics, not design. When the Belgium government taxed plastic bags, usage decreased by 90% overnight. It would be impossible to achieve such impressive results with design.

Khoi Vinh: Absolutely. When good design is put to the service of engineering change, people respond to it positively — because if it’s truly good design it will be largely transparent.

Ji Lee: People in general don’t like change. We like things to continue the way they are because change brings the unknown and we don’t like what is unknown. Designers can make the transition from the old system to a new system a lot easier and even desirable. Here’s an example of how design can make the change desirable. Think about Apple vs. Microsoft. When Microsoft makes a change, a new OS, a new feature in their product, most people’s reaction tends to be negative and burdensome. Now you have to painfully learn and adapt to new changes. When Apple makes a change, a new OS, a new feature in their products, people rush to learn about them and share them with their friends. Now you can joyfully discover and play with new changes. The difference is in design and communication.

What would you like to see happen in NYC in the next ten years?

Stefan Sagmeister:New legislation offering properly constructed 3 ply windows to all New Yorkers at a steep discount. An overall change of the AC and heating systems for homes and businesses, making them the responsibility of tenants, not landlords.
 A 24 hour ferry system around Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens.

When good design is put to the service of engineering change, people respond to it positively. — Khoi Vinh

Khoi Vinh: I’d like to see the MTA get their house in order and give us a public transportation system that’s a decade’s worth of progress better than it is today. That’s not what happened in the past decade: the bus and rail system that we have today in 2011 is not ten years’ worth of progress better than it was in 2001, and that’s disappointing.

Ji Lee: I would love NYC to be the most bicycle friendly city in the world, with lots of bike lanes.

How can designers learn from the public, as to how to communicate ideas to the public?

Stefan Sagmeister: Communicate like people, not like communication professionals: Be subjective, open, honest and personal.

Khoi Vinh: I wish I knew a better answer to this other than: try something, see what happens, try something else, repeat until successful.

Ji Lee: I believe that in any conversation and communication, listening and understanding the other side are the first steps to a truly meaningful exchange. If I really want to make a point to a friend, a family member or a colleague, I must also listen to what they have to say and understand their issues and their points. By listening, I’m acknowledging them and once I acknowledge and understand them, they will also be open to listen to me. I believe this is true in any kind of communication: Between husband and wife, between two countries, and between designers and the public. Listening and understanding the public are the first steps to a truly meaningful and effective communication.


Stefan Sagmeister runs his own design firm by the same name. His work can be found in numerous publications and the Museum of Modern Art. Much of his inspiration comes from projects that he initiates himself out of pure passion for the subject matter.

Khoi Vinh was the Design Director at He is known in the design world for his expertise in user experience and grid design. He recently published a book called Ordering Disorder: Grid Principles for Web Design. His blog on design and other subjects can be found under

Ji Lee is Creative Director at Facebook, and was formerly Creative Director at the Google Creative Lab. He also contributes illustrations to the NY Times and other periodicals. His personal and professional work can be seen at He too believes in the importance of passion projects.