A Look Back at our Public Interest Design Predictions for 2013

Posted by John Cary

For PublicInterestDesign.org’s third annual year in review series, we’re chronicling initiatives shaping the field of public interest design. As was the case in previous years, this is not an exercise in trend-spotting, but instead a meditation initiatives poised to advance a growing field at the intersection of design and social change. 

1. The NEA Published its Social Impact Design White Paper

Nearly a year to the date after the Social Impact Design Summit, which took place in February 2012, the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, National Endowment for the Arts, and several funding partners released a first-of-its-kind white paper on social impact design. Edited by Julie Lasky, “Design & Social Impact: A Cross-Sectoral Agenda for Design Education, Research, & Practice” put a stake in the ground on behalf of the federal government about the role of design in addressing some of the most complex social challenges of our time. Beyond five recommendations, arguably the single-biggest outcome of the paper was a three-part Social Impact Design Webinar series, hosted by the NEA, all of which are archived here.

2. The Public Interest Design 100 Infographic Went Global

In February, we published the Global Public Interest Design 100 infographic, showcasing 100 individuals and teams working at the intersection of design and social change globally. In total, 146 individuals from 35 different countries were profiled across ten categories, such as connectors, funders, policy makers, etc. Sponsored by Autodesk and designed by Megan Jett, the list illustrated that public interest design takes many forms and is drawing on a diversity of contributors. An interactive, web-based version was also launched for the first time. The global and U.S. versions are set for an update and consolidation in 2014, with several honorees having transitioned into new roles or at least out of old ones.

3. Big Future Group took shape

With a goal of "bringing sustainable solutions to communities in need," Big Future Group took flight this year, currently working with nonprofit Nyaya Health to expand an under-resourced and geographically critical hospital in Nepal. On a personal note, this author knows this project unusually well, as a proud Nyaya Health Advisory Board member and having made the introduction. Additionally, the co-founders realized a dream of many as a Women’s Opportunity Center opened its doors in an eastern province of Rwanda in June, which members of our team had the opportunity to visit earlier this year, while still under construction.

4. The University of Minnesota Hosted Public Interest Design Week

The first-ever Public Interest Design Week took place March 19-24, 2013, generously hosted by the University of Minnesota College of Design. Drawing over 500 people over the course of the week, the headline event was the thirteenth international Structures for Inclusion conference. Together, we reflected on the state of the public interest design field, imagined a vision for the future, and honed the skills needed to make that vision a reality. Structures for Inclusion 14 is scheduled for March 22-23, 2014, in New York City, co-hosted by nonprofit Design Corps with Parsons The New School for Design.

5. IDEO.org Innovation Fund Took Off

First announced as a 2012 commitment of the Clinton Global Initiative, the IDEO.org Innovation Fund, made possible by a major grant from the Wasserman Foundation, provides services to select organizations with bold ideas and high potential for scale. Specifically, these are entities that might otherwise have been unable to partner with IDEO.org due to cost and other constraints. The organization sourced its first four Innovation Fund finalists via referrals from its network. The four finalists received two-week deep dives to help the organizations better understand their most significant design challenges. IDEO.org then selected two of the Innovation Fund finalists to partner with for longer, eight-week engagements.

6. Design is Solidified as a Hallmark of the Clinton Global Initiative

Building on its 2012 annual meeting theme, "Designing for Impact,"the Clinton Global Initiative declared "Mobilizing for Impact" as its 2013 convening theme. Design and two prominent public interest design leaders played major roles in the planning and presentation of the 2013 annual meeting, affirming that design is being embraced as a welcome addition to CGI’s toolbox. Multiple design-related sessions took place at this year’s meeting, including main stage presentations or appearances by Michael Murphy of MASS Design Group; Cameron Sinclair, co-founder of Architecture for Humanity; and MIT Media Lab’s David Sengeh, among many others. Entities such as Build Change, IDEO.org, as well as Autodesk and an array of partners launched major, design-related commitments.

7. MASS Design Lab is up and running

Launched over the past year, the MASS Design Lab is nonprofit MASS Design Group’s research and education arm. A few of the many groundbreaking research projects being pursued through the Lab include a National Institute of Health work in pursuit of hospital design that combats tuberculosis; USAID-supported research in good health facility design cataloging case studies globally; south to north innovation in health infrastructure, supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; impact studies on the Butaro Hospital, now a few years into its service, led by a full time epidemiologist (the only architecture firm that we know of with one) for studying impact across projects; writing Liberia’s national policy and creating national standards for health infrastructure. The organization has also seen a flow of employees between its headquarters in Boston and office in Kigali, with more expected in the coming year.

8. If You Build It, a Film on Studio H, Debuted

If You Build It, a powerful documentary about the founding years of the Studio H high school design/build program debuted via multiple sneak peak screenings this year, with the theatrical debut, already including 18 screenings across the country, to start January 8, 2014. Although Studio H is now based out of the REALM Charter School in Berkeley, the program’s formative years in Bertie County, North Carolina, are the centerpiece of the film, meticulously documented by award-winning O’Malley Creadon Productions. Meanwhile, Studio H expanded to include a summer and after school program for girls, called Camp H.

9. Grantmakers in Design Lost Steam, but is Poised for a Rebound

Thirteen months since its founding meeting, Grantmakers in Design was sadly sidelined while we invested heavily in the establishment of the up-and-coming Autodesk Foundation, which has the potential to catapult design philanthropy forward, once funded. With more convenings of grantmakers expected in 2014, design funding will come into focus via a new database of foundations and other crucial sponsors under development by Autodesk and the PublicInterestDesign.org editorial team.

10. The Catch-All of TBAs

In hindsight, our tenth prediction was a rather cryptic grouping of initiatives “To Be Announced.” The “new funding stream” will hopefully be realized in 2014; several new award programs sprouted up, including Public Architecture’s “Social Impact Design Award” and Design Corps’ “Global Public Interest Design Awards;” while we saw and undertook measurably more writing about the field, some of it more critical than others. Still, much work remains.

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