While the mainstream architecture and design professions—as well as the clients they serve—are notoriously exclusive and homogenous, a diverse array of leaders are at the helm of a more inclusive practice at the intersection of design and service. Drawing parallels with the fields of public interest law and public health, the fast-growing public interest design movement takes a human-centered approach, focused on projects and people long un-served by good design.
Members of this burgeoning movement will unite March 19-24 at the University of Minnesota for a first-of-its-kind Public Interest Design Week. The headline event, taking place during the final two days, is the annual Structures for Inclusion conference, started 13 years ago by nonprofit Design Corps to help architecture students and young architects navigate what was once an entirely uncertain career path of service. The conference and all other events of the week will take a far broader view of design—of products, of environments, and of systems or services—than has historically been the case.
The four keynote speakers alone represent a growing understanding that designers from a range of disciplines and design ambassadors of all walks of life are essential contributors to this movement. Among them are New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman, not immediately the face of diversity, until you read his startlingly activist and eloquent words insisting that design advance the public good—very much in the spirit of the late, great Ada Louise Huxtable. Kimmelman’s debut article as architecture critic was a cover story on the Via Verde housing development in the South Bronx, and virtually every column since has struck a similar tenor or tone.
Where Kimmelman beautifully speaks to the virtues of environmental design, Krista Donaldson, CEO of D-Rev: Design Revolution, a San Francisco-based nonprofit, brings a crucial perspective on the design, development, manufacturing, and delivery of products—created with and intended for people living on less than $4 a day. With two breakthrough healthcare devices—a low-cost prosthetic knee joint and light therapy device to treat jaundice—D-Rev was most recently heralded as one of “The 50 Most Innovative Companies of 2013” by Fast Company magazine, alongside many of the hottest businesses and brands of our time.
A third superstar speaker is award-winning designer Liz Ogbu, whose background in architecture has evolved to focus on systems design, in large part because of her service among the inaugural class of IDEO.org fellows. Ogbu takes a critical view of the systemic forces shaping issues as far-ranging as immigration policy here in the U.S. to water and health access in Kenya.
An acclaimed TED speaker and New York Times best-selling author of The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity & Hope, William Kamkwamba will share how he achieved his dream of bringing electricity, light, and the promise of a better life to his family and his village in Malawi. Now a student at Dartmouth University, Kamkwamba is the subject of a forthcoming documentary, William and the Windmill, debuting next month at the SXSW Film Festival.
Together, these four individuals—alongside two-dozen other speakers—are the faces at the forefront of this growing movement. Accordingly, Public Interest Design Week is a rare opportunity to get such a broad survey of design for the good of all.
Image of Liz Ogbu courtesy of IDEO.org.