Blueprint for a Better World
2104/04/25
By : Kerrie Trueman
The term "activist designer" may sound kind of funny to those of us who associate designers with swanky showrooms and high-end hedonism. But there's a growing cadre of designers, architects, and do-it-yourselfers whose clientele is the citizens of the world, instead of the privileged few.

They're pooling their tremendous talents through a non-profit organization called Project H, a social design community founded in 2008 by dynamic young architect Emily Pilloton, who launched the website working from her parents' dining room table at the age of 26.

Pilloton goes beyond thinking outside the box and dives right into the dumpster; she once made high-end one-of-a-kind freegan furniture entirely out of materials she salvaged. In Pilloton's view, "design that does not improve life is a form of apathy," and to settle for merely "doing no harm," is more than a missed opportunity -- it does the world a disservice.

Hence, the "H" in Pilloton's Project stands for "design initiatives for Humanity, Habitats, Health, and Happiness." Pilloton and her socially conscious colleagues are choosing to use their creativity not to feather the nests of over-compensated executives, but rather to empower under-served and disenfranchised folks whose needs have been too long ignored. Project H innovations run the gamut from the life-improving to the truly life-saving: safe drinking water, cleaner cooking fuels, affordable forms of alternative energy and transportation, creative educational tools, innovative health aids, and so forth.

Pilloton highlights these projects in her book Design Revolution: 100 Products That Empower People. As she told Dwell, the book is "one part rabble-rousing rant about why industrial design has become a severely misguided industry, and some tactics for bringing it back to something that's about social impact and making people's lives better."

Design Revolution is full of nifty ideas and products; some on the market, others still in development. Some are DIY projects, like a rainwater catchment system or a soccer ball made from plastic shopping bags. Others, like the Hippo Water Roller or the spider boots that Stephen Colbert clowned around with when Pilloton was a guest on his show, aspire to solve more profound problems.

Colbert introduced Pilloton as an architect who "wants to fix the world through humanitarian design." He speculated that these endless global needs must offer a potential goldmine for Pilloton and her creative colleagues.

But, as Pilloton told Colbert, she prefers to pursue "the triple bottom line: planet, people, and profit."

From the most affluent nations to the poorest, we wrestle with the questions of how to feed and house people decently, educate our children, generate renewable energy and deal with waste, combat disease, address social inequality, and how to protect our dwindling natural resources. The news is full of global gloom, from naturally occurring disasters -- the so-called "acts of God" -- to the merely mortal missteps that have brought us such homegrown horrors as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and the diabetes epidemic. And don't forget the compound catastrophes, the collusions between nature and man that made Hurricane Katrina and the Haiti earthquake doubly disastrous.

Pilloton and her team of visionaries are not only seeking solutions to these problems, but encouraging other folks to rise to the challenge, too. Project H launched the Design Revolution Roadshow, turning a vintage Airstream into a rolling exhibit of some of the empowering, socially conscious designs depicted in the book.

Project H is offering a free Design Revolution Toolkit, intended to help not just design students and educators, but "anyone who wants to apply creative problem solving to social issues." The Toolkit "outlines 13 values and corresponding strategies for not just how to design for the greater good, but how to produce GREAT design for the greater good."

Will this revolution be televised? Colbert gave us a glimpse of it, but this is one movement whose tenets will triumph thanks to boots on the ground, not butts on the couch. Calling all creatives! Get your toolkit and get to work -- or play -- for the global good.

Originally published on The Green Fork
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