Yesterday was one of the most epically awesome days I have had in a long, long time. Seriously, it was great from morning 'till night. A huuuuuuge part of that was the fact that the Project H Design Revolution Road Show rolled into town. Project H is one of the most noted organizations pushing for socially-fueled design. Emily and Matt, the masterminds, are sort of design rebels that decided to stop designing mass-produced objects and start designing things that really help people. This is the sort of stuff that really gets me excited.
Matt jokingly called the road show a 'book tour,' because they are showcasing a number of products from Emily's book Design Revolution: 100 products that empower people in the airstream. They are encouraging people, but especially design students, to check out the products, pick them up, and critique them. One of the most unexpected lessons from their stop here- that just because a product is designed to help people does not necessarily mean that it is a great, or even good, design. We need to invest more time and resources into designing for the greater good, for the other 90%, so that good, helpful designs can be put into production.
Their lecture left me with a lot to think about, and much of what they talked about can be found in the design revolution toolkit, which my friend Jince (who co-oped with project H) contributed to. My friends and I had the opportunity to attend a meet-and-greet with Emily and Matt (it wasn't too organized, and we were the only students there, but it was a great opportunity to talk to them), and I really pulled some lessons from that session. First, Emily mentioned that on their trip across the U.S. they have seen tons of design schools, and many of them are antiquated and 'need to go away.' This is something that our friends talk about weekly, and it was telling to hear her mention the fact. Industrial design is a reasonably new field, but it feels like many of the 'originals' are sticking around as design faculty. This results in an entirely traditional education and curriculum that is not all bad, but leaves much to be desired in terms of how far the discipline has come in the last twenty years. I would be interested in design school reform, helping faculty across the country strike a better balance between the old and the new.
Secondly, I asked Emily about her opinion on design for emerging markets. Both at school and on co-op I have been asked to design products for people in countries and communities I have never visited (Africa and India.) This has left me feeling terrible because it seems like I really don't have any insight into the user(s), and without insight into the user, it is difficult, if not impossible, to design a valid and worthwhile product. Emily agreed fully (going so far as to say that she would have dropped the studio class where we designed desktop computers for emerging markets), but suggested finding a parallel local community to use as a guide. For example, if you are designing for the slums of Mumbai, visit the slums of L.A. to gain insight and help inform your design. Later, during their lecture, I was thrilled to see that Matt and Emily added a secret initiative to their toolkit-
(#14) Sit Still
The lesson? There are a lot of problems to be solved in our own back yards. For the time being, project H is focusing more on local problems where they can have community insight and real impact. This is not to say that emerging markets don't need our help, but perhaps it is wiser to start here first.
The epic day of awesomeness ended, actually, with a lecture from Nike. It was a huge contrast to the project H activities and showed me where my priorities are as a designer at this point in time. I entered school wanting to design shoes for Nike, and I will be leaving school with a passion for design with social impact.