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During the past year, designers worked harder than ever to solve problems with a widespread impact, focusing their efforts on societal issues ranging from health to education. But since many designers were creating solutions in developing nations or rural poverty-stricken areas here in the U.S., their efforts were not without controversy. Here, we look back on the triumphs, challenges, and ongoing questions that affect the humanitarian design world.
January: In what we think might be a first for a designer, Emily Pilloton appears on The Colbert Report to promote her new humanitarian design book Design Revolution: 100 Products that Empower People. Colbert tries on the affordable Adaptive Eyecare glasses by Joshua Silver and operates a water-transportation device named the Hippo Roller. The next month, Pilloton kicks off a 25-school tour in a gallery made from a converted Airstream trailer.
February: At the 2010 TED conference, TED Prize winner and celebrity chef Jamie Oliver announces his wish to end childhood obesity by educating kids about healthy eating. The design firm IDEO aids him in his quest by featuring his challenge on OpenIDEO, a new open-source problem-solving platform that launches in August. By October, IDEO and Oliver have compiled a document featuring almost 200 solutions, some of which Oliver pledges to implement.
March: Two months after a 7.0 earthquake devastates Haiti, Architecture for Humanity launches a Rebuilding Center to train and educate local architects and builders in "Bat Si Bien" or Building Back Better. During the next few months, the team works to assess the damage to local schools and begin to repair or rebuild homes throughout the country, all while sharing their information through Creative Commons.
April: The Austin Center for Design, a new design school focused on teaching designers how to solve societal problems, launches its Design for Impact Boot Camp. The event is held in a homeless center where the designers conduct extensive ethnographic research to investigate Austin's poverty issues. Co-sponsored by frog design, the boot camp is a first-of-its-kind seminar aimed at teaching the skills needed to approach humanitarian design.
May: The first international museum show to focus on humanitarian and socially-responsible design projects opens at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum. Why Design Now? features projects that range from an incubator made from car parts, to a pamphlet for street vendors, and even our work here at GOOD. We note the disparity between what's featured at the show and the rest of New York's mostly-frivolous Design Week offerings.
Photo: Scott Stowell
June: DesigNYC, a large-scale design initiative in New York City, mounts an exhibition to showcase the pro bono work-in-progress for 12 nonprofits paired with 12 design teams. In a process facilitated by leading designers, the teams will work together to create and fund solutions for their stakeholders. Within a year, the projects are in various stages of completion, from a healthy eating initiative in the Bedford-Stuyvestant neighborhood, to a landscape and lighting system for a Manhattan street, to an intergenerational garden at an affordable housing center in the Bronx.
Photo: Alexandra Corazza
July: Bruce Nussbaum ignites a firestorm when he writes an essay at Co.Design questioning whether designers working in developing countries were imposing their Western values upon them. Emily Pilloton, whose work for Project H Design he cited, responds from rural Bertie County, North Carolina, where she is now running a design-build program for high school students. Dozens of bloggers chime in on a passionate debate that rages on for months.
August: Elizabeth Scharpf, an entrepreneur with no design background, is named as a finalist in the Curry Stone Design Prize, which acknowledges a visionary design project each year. Scharpf's Sustainable Health Enterprises (SHE) works to make safe, affordable sanitary pads for women in developing nations, where menstruation can cause women to miss up to 50 days of work a year. In October, the no-strings $100,000 grant is awarded to Scharpf.
September: Change Observer and Winterhouse publish the latest in a series of updates from the relaunched Aspen Design Summit, which convened more than 60 designers and thought leaders the previous November to work on six social issues. Funded in part by a $1.5 million grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, the projects include a healthy aging initiative for Boomers and early-childhood development kits which were distributed in Haiti after the January earthquake.
October: An article in The New York Times Magazine follows up on our 2007 story on Project M, a group of designers working for social change in communities around the world. While the response to Project M's work has been largely positive, a cafe and design studio named PieLab in rural Alabama had recently been met with opposition from the community and was taken over by a local organization.
November: Public Architecture's book The Power of Pro Bono goes on sale, highlighting five years of their humanitarian design initiative The 1%. Since 2005, hundreds of design firms have contributed at least one percent of their time to economically-disadvantaged clients, resulting in an estimated $25 million in donated services per year. The book features 40 projects ranging from schools to parks, each serving a community in need.
Photo: Richard Hammond/Gensler
December: Data visualization and mapping firm Stamen roll out the super-beta version of Dotspotting, a new way to affix locations to digital maps. It's the first phase of their app Citytracking, a proposal that won a $400,000 grant from the Knight Foundation earlier this year. In a groundbreaking concept for data design, Citytracking will allow residents to create personalized maps and visualizations using city data, helping them to understand everything from crime to economic conditions in their neighborhoods.