Thursday, September 3, 2009

Defining Social Design

Without doing any research before hand, I feel social design is the use of art and design to try and make a positive change so social issues locally, nationally and worldwide...

While googling "what is social design", I came across Design 21 (later mentioned in my D&SE class). It is a social design network that is in partnership with UNESCO, an organization if followed for a long time for research. Design 21’s commitment is to improve life through social design. Their mission statement is a great definition of ‘social design’: “Social Design Network's mission is to inspire social activism through design. We connect people who want to explore ways design can positively impact our many worlds, and who want to create change here, now.” On the homepage of their website they have two tabs for browsing, “social theme” and “design theme”. While searching under the convenience of the social them list, I came across an interesting design for poverty:

Bus Shelter House
Poverty, Environmental Design
Location: Melbourne, Australia
Problem: Designing emergency shelters for the displaced or homeless people in urban environments. Some city benches discourage sleeping with designs that are intentionally uncomfortable.
Client: Prototype
Designers: Sean Godsell Architects

Solution: A bus shelter that converts into an emergency overnight accommodation. The bench lifts to reveal a woven steel mattress and the advertising hoarding is modified to act as a dispenser of blankets, food, and water. It also acts as a small gallery space where art can be exhibited. The shelter has the potential to be solar powered and its glass roof and back double as a digital projection screen.

I live in downtown Baltimore and come across homeless people everyday. Camps are set up outside of churches, huddles are made near steam vents, children wash windshields at red lights for cash. I think people living on the streets is something urban America needs to accept, especially with the economy the way it is today. Rather than shunning it, this design team embraces the reality of city living and accommodates for it’s victims while still being aseptically pleasing and environmentally friendly. This is a great display of social design because the solution is positive in more than one social theme.
I feel anyone can be a social designer at heart. When a person watches the news, passes a problem while taking a walk, or confronting an issue in the work place and thinks of an improvement that cant be made to the problem, he/she is already started the process of social design thinking. It takes a strong willed and creative person to execute the ideas, but he/she doesn’t need to be an expert. Dan Phillips, who I have previously mentioned in my blog, was featured in the New York Times recently. He is a dancer, an instructor and more recently a self-taught carpenter helping people in need build their very own house out of recycled materials. The concept is so simple, it’s genius. His resources are found in landfills and nature, resources any person can use. He is a great example of an average person turned social designer.

Overall, I believe my original definition to be dead on, but vague. Social design has so many themes, issues, intentions and can start from anywhere or anyone who wants to make an improvement to the quality of life. It can be executed by the bare minimum of materials or new resources being created by social designers themselves. I believe that social design has become a much needed trend in the art world and most designers are leaning towards social design rather than personal or corporate design. It has become a necessity in improving our world.

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