Name: Emily Pilloton
Project: Project H Design
Years at it: Two and a half
Tired of designing meaningless stuff, the budding designer and architect Emily Pilloton, 28, launched Project H Design with only a vague idea—the “H” stands for humanity, habitats, health, and happiness—and a clear sense of what she didn’t want. Her nonprofit organization has since evolved into an imaginative firm designing systems (not stuff) for people in need.
An early project, Learning Landscapes, crafted playgrounds out of reclaimed tires. “A fourth-grader is a totally different kind of design client,” says Pilloton, who has also put out a book, Design Revolution: 100 Products That Empower People. “When we built the Learning Landscape, tons of kids were like, ‘It’s stupid, I hate pink.’ You never get feedback like that from professional clients. It’s a very direct reward: Put something in a classroom, and kids’ faces either light up or they don’t. There’s something very honest about it.”
Pilloton and her partner, Matthew Miller, built a Learning Landscape for every elementary school in Bertie County, North Carolina, then they moved on to the computer labs. Not wanting to be merely drive-by designers, they settled in as high school teachers. The 13 juniors in their college-level design program will eventually build their community public chicken coops and a farmers’ market.
The class is the culmination of what Pilloton quit her design day job to do: Create things with people, not for them, leaving behind an impact more than a product, especially in places that are not normally the focus of designers. “These are the kinds of places where not only do they need design,” she says, “they just have the most to potentially benefit from it.”
Art by Luci Gutiérrez