Social design

I think something is happening in the design field…but see what you think. If you have any feedback or knowledge, please comment. I’d love to dig deeper into this:

While there are designers who are constant in their commitment to use design for non-profit uses and the greater good (consider blogs like social design notes, houtlust, etc.) my little naive designer antennas are starting to pick up more and more about a broader social design through my faithful RSS feeds and the industry journal, Communication Arts.

This started last October when I posted briefly on Milton Glasier’s Designism. That was very exciting but I just haven’t heard much else, and no one I talk to seems to know much about it.

Then I open my recent Communication Arts to Carolyn McCarron Sienicki’s Inch by Inch article. She mentions several other designers and initiatives such as Christopher Liechty’s cross cultural design understandings, Stefan Sagmeister’s heartfelt design, and Natalia Ilyin emphasis on the human. These are all new to me, and I got quite excited as I kept reading:

It may sound like these designers and business leaders are quoting different theories, but they are not. They’re all talking about the same thing: using our creative thinking and design skills to help redirect the present course of the world—economically, socially and environmentally. Maybe it was Hurricane Katrina that finally did it. Maybe it was Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth. Maybe it’s the never-ending casualties and ever-growing troops in Iraq. Whatever the trigger, there’s a collective feeling that we can no longer afford to go on working and living the way we have. In a world that grows smaller every day—where we are economically interdependent on each other, where cultural and social clashes create terrorism, where the changes in the environment are now too disturbing to ignore—the things we are creating no longer feel sustainable.

Hmm…I’m officially getting excited. I’m hearing Fuller’s theme verse this year ringing in my ears: “And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8

Before you think I’m prooftexting this, consider this: the Cooper-Hewitt National Museum of Design on Museum Row in New York City is opening their first exhibit dedicated to social design next Monday: Design for the other 90%. John Emermon’s Social Design Notes blog points to a recent article in the International Herald Tribune about this (check out the slide show, it’s truly inspiring). While Emerson seems to think this design exhibition is more an act of charity than representing a paradigm shift I’d hope to see, call me silly to say this glass looks half full. I’m excited leading design institutions (Communication Arts and the Cooper-Hewitt) are starting to notice trends of designers responding to injustice and poverty through the design process. Sounds like mission work to me.


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