About Social Impact Design

15 years into the new millennium, the world is facing a host of challenges in the areas of food security, access to clean drinking water, environmental degradation, waste, energy, housing, education, transportation…just to name a few. Many of these are global in nature and affect societies and economies across the world.

How can designers use their creative potential to contribute to finding sustainable solutions for some of these challenges?

For decades, design has been “hijacked” to feed consumerism with trendy and often short-life-cycle products. Design awards across the world often celebrate innovation, form, function, ergonomics and state of the art technologies and award products that are often positioned in upper market segments and accessible only to a select few.

How can design return to its roots of a more problem-solving oriented approach? How can design be more human centred and needs driven?

More and more designers across the world are taking on the challenge and shifting their design priorities. Social Design or Human Centred Design is becoming a real movement with more and more designers, design firms, universities, design institutions, conferences and exhibitions making this their focus.

This is why I decided to make Social Impact Design the topic for the MAID 2015 studio class.
Most of the students in the course come from emerging economies that are struggling to balance fast economic growth with sustainable development and addressing the needs of the majority of their populations.

Giving the students the opportunity to familiarize and sensitize themselves with the topic of Social Impact Design, gives them an important and valuable know-how that they can apply when they return to their respective countries.

In a first phase of the project, the students researched the topic of Social Design and Human Centred Design, looking at definitions, key words, literature, web-links and films on the topic. They identified key considerations to successfully implement a Social Design Project. The students also collected numerous examples of Social Design Projects and categorized them into key subject areas.

All these findings were then consolidated to develop different types of Tool Kits that can be used to explain, plan, execute or evaluate social design projects.

In a second phase, some of the students carried out first attempts to apply this knowledge to a concrete project example.

One group of students also proceeded to develop and launch a website that documents all the research findings and project results. It also offers a resource library of all kind of information on the topic and is meant to be an open source resource website for anyone interested in social design.

I feel the project achieved its goal of giving the students a first insight into the topic. I hope most of them will make Social Impact Design a key consideration in their future projects.

The project group invites you to browse the website and delve into the world of Social Design. You are also welcome to comment and collaborate.

Prof. Mark Kwami