Posts Tagged ‘Sustainability’

Prominent theorist Ezio Manzini to discuss new book connecting design culture to social change

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015


Ezio Manzini

Ezio Manzini

Ezio Manzini, a leading force in social impact design and founder of the DESIS (Design for Social Innovation towards Sustainability) network of university-based design labs (including Art Center’s Designmatters department), will present a lecture based on ideas addressed within his new book, Design, When Everybody Designs, published by MIT Press. The event, which begins at 7pm in Art Center’s Ahmanson Auditorium, will include an hour-long talk about design culture’s role in driving the future of social change and a book signing at 8pm.

The following excerpt from Manzini’s book, which was originally published as part of Mapping Social Design‘s Expert Workshop, offers an enticing preview of the innovative and deeply-considered ideas Manzini will address in his presentation at Art Center next week:

In the 21st century social innovation will be interwoven with design as both stimulus and objective, indeed it will stimulate design as much as technical innovation did in the 20th century. At the same time, it will be what a growing proportion of design activities will be seeking to achieve. In principle, design has all the potentialities to play a major role in triggering and supporting social change and therefore becoming design for social innovation. Today we are at the beginning of this journey and we still need a better understanding of the possibilities, the limits and the implications of this emerging design mode, but what is already clear is that design for social innovation is not a new discipline: it is simply one of the ways in which contemporary design is appearing. Therefore, what it requires is not so much a specific set of skills and methods, but a new culture, a new way of looking at the world and at what design can do with and for people living in it.

Design for social innovation

Given these examples and the reflections on them, to help frame a discussion on what design for social innovation is and what it does, I will propose a rough, but in my view, already meaningful definition: “Design for social innovation is everything that expert design can do to activate, sustain and orient processes of social change towards sustainability.”

By giving this definition I simply mean that in order to talk about it we do not need to introduce new models or new definitions, in addition to those we have already seen when discussing design in general and the way it appears in the networking world. Design for social innovation (writer’s note: from now onwards this expression will be used to mean social innovation towards sustainability) is not a new kind of design: it is one of the ways in which contemporary design already functions. However, since it requires a special sensitivity and a few conceptual and operational tools, it seems to me useful to give it a name and focus on its peculiarities.

From the above definition it appears that, when talking about design for social innovation, we are referring to a vast field resulting from the intersection of the entire range of social innovation phenomena (outlined in Chapter 1) with expert design in all its contemporary shapes and forms (outlined in Chapter 2). It is therefore a constellation of activities, each characterized by a different acceptation of these two terms.

In conclusion of this part, we can say that design for social innovation is the expert design contribution to a co-design process aiming at social change. In practical terms, it is a blend of different components: original ideas and visions (from design culture), practical design tools (from different design disciplines) and creativity (which is a personal gift), within the framework of a design approach (deriving from previous reflexive design experience).

Design for social innovation vs. social design

The question of similarity and difference between design for social innovation and social design has been much discussed within the design community and has created no few misunderstandings outside it. To my mind it all depends on the double meaning commonly attributed to the adjective “social” in many languages. Although, strictly speaking, it refers to the ties between people and to the organizational forms that characterize a society, it is very frequently used to connote particularly problematic situations, such as extreme poverty, illness or exclusion, and circumstances after catastrophic events. In other words, when used in this way, “social” becomes a synonym for “highly problematic condition”, which poses (or should pose) the need for urgent intervention, outside normal market or public service modalities. It is precisely in this acceptation that the term “social” made its entrance into the design debate several decades ago, generating the term: social design (BOX 3.1 Social Design).

BOX 3.1 Social design

The application field for Social design is that of problems which are not normally dealt with by the market, and its interlocutors do not normally have a voice there (for the simple reason that they do not have the economic means to generate market demand). From here arises the ethical, noble nature of social design and also, traditionally, its limit: if these socially sensitive issues do not express an economically receivable demand, neither can they sustain the costs of design. In some cases, the work that a design expert can offer to a charity organization that proposes to deal with such problems, is also considered social design. In this case the designer may even be paid. However, this occurs within the framework of initiatives that, on the whole, are charitable in nature. It is exactly for this reason that, until now, social design has been professedly marginal. In fact, in this conceptual framework, we assume that there is “normal design” that operates for the market and, alongside it, there is another activity, the social design that we should operate to bring into being and that should be based on ethical motivation: a well-meant design, to do in one’s free time.

Social innovation design starts from quite different premises. The first is that it concerns the “social” in its general sense: the way in which people interact together generating social forms. The second is that what it is proposing is not to meet an urgent need, but to produce an innovation. In other words, it seeks to produce a change as a local discontinuity: as a step towards sustainability. The third, deriving from the first two, is that design for social innovation is to be seen as a new field of action for expert design.

As a matter of fact, design for social innovation is related to the role that behavior and social forms play in the sustainability field (environmental, but also social, and touching on questions of equity and democracy). It follows that, in this perspective, questions concerning social groups that do not appear problematical under the first acceptation of the adjective “social” become interesting. An obvious example concerns the behavior of the new middle classes in the emerging countries: how they will decide to live (meaning their choices in terms of food or type of home and transport) will impact heavily on the environmental future of the Planet. Therefore it is of great importance to social innovation design. Furthermore, we can and must add that, in the spirit of social innovation design, the choices and behavior of the wealthy classes is of great interest since, as we have seen in the past for issues such as food, homes and mobility, their orientations (or at least those of certain social groups who are prosperous but culturally and socially open-minded) may open the way to the feasibility of innovative solutions. This is not only because they make it possible to create the first prototypes, but also because they contribute to their visibility and positive connotations.

Given that, it follows that the fact that today it is an activity practiced and requested by few, is not a structural fact. The hypothesis is that it may become an important, if not actually dominant, component of design in the future. The fourth premise, deriving from the previous one, is that design for social innovation has an ethical base that lies, or should lie, at the basis of all design activities (where the well-being sought after is the well-being of the people for whom and with whom we are designing and of the Planet on which we live, and on which our children will have to live). Having said this, it requires no further addition on ethical ground. What it does require however is to translate these “normal” design ethics into practical and aesthetic choices that contribute to the quality of people’s “normal” everyday lives in a connected world, while grappling with this discovery of the Planet’s limits.

Post scriptum

Having made this schematic differentiation between social design and design for social innovation, we should say that in contemporary reality the criteria on which it is based become less and less easily applicable. This not only because those who talk about them often mix the two meanings of the term “social” (this would simply imply a banal question of terminology). It is also, and more substantially, because the fields on which social design and social innovation design have so far been working are moving closer and creating areas of objective (and very productive) overlap. In fact, social design is increasingly oriented towards social innovation, recognizing that this is the only possibility for solving the problems it traditionally deals with. In turn, facing the extension of the economic crisis, design for social innovation is more and more frequently involved in initiatives that invest socially sensitive issues.

The success of Safe Agua: Students design solutions to water scarcity in Colombia

Monday, July 7th, 2014

Alumnus Isaac Oaks offers a student’s perspective on the Safe Agua Colombia project, just published in the new Designmatters book, Safe Agua Colombia (June 2014). Continuing to build on the investigations and experiences of the award-winning Safe Agua Chile and Safe Agua Peru projects, Oaks traveled as part of a student team to Altos del Pino, in Bogotá, Colombia, to co-create innovative technical design solutions with local families, seeking to overcome some of the social issues created by water poverty and to make an impact through resulting products and systems. 

The Designmatters Safe Agua project fostered my personal exploration into the area of community design co-creation. The experience began with an immersive 12-day research trip to outskirts of Bogotá, Colombia, in fall 2013, where I was among a small team embedded with families in the asentamiento of Altos del Pino. Our focus was designing for the all too common problem of extremely limited water supply. Because they are only provisionally connected to the official water grid, each household has access to a small hose of running water for just one hour every eight days. This highly restrictive schedule became the catalyst for our designs.


Designmatters and Aspen Institute examine the social, creative and economic impact of the new culture of ‘intrapreneurs’

Thursday, June 12th, 2014
Mariana Amatullo speaking at Desigmnatters' Leap Symposium on the New Professional Frontier in Design For Social Innovation." Photo by Alex Aristei

Designmatters’ Mariana Amatullo opening the Leap Symposium: The New Professional Frontier in Design for Social Innovation. Photo ©2013 Alex Aristei for LEAP

This week the Aspen Institute launched a new series of essays on the growing importance of social intrapreneurs — change-agents within organizations large and small who are fusing business success with positive social and environmental impacts — and the value they are adding to their organizations and society. To kick off the series, the Institute, in collaboration with The Huffington Post, published the following piece by Mariana Amatullo, co-founder and vice president of Designmatters at Art Center College of Design.

Safir BellaliThe Institute also named 2001 Art Center alumnus Safir Bellali, Design Innovation director for Vans, to its incoming class of 2014 First Movers Fellows. Each fellow will tackle a project that will have a positive financial, social and environmental impact on both their company and society. Bellali, who maintains close ties with the College through his participation in critiques and hiring student interns, will explore how new manufacturing technologies will allow Vans to work toward bringing production back to the United States. In Fall 2014, Vans will sponsor a Designmatters/Product Design studio at Art Center.


Sweet bread, technology and democracy: behind the scenes at #techLA

Wednesday, June 4th, 2014
Amy Shimshon-Santo (far left) moderates the #techLA panel at City Hall

Amy Shimshon-Santo (far left) moderates the #techLA panel at City Hall

“Mmm, pan dulce,” said Mayor Eric Garcetti. Around the Green Room table behind the Los Angeles City Council Chambers, diverse leaders gathered around cafecito and conchas de vainilla o chocolate. It was 8:30 a.m. on a cool Saturday morning. Our disciplines ranged from transportation and interactive design to Smart Grid technologies, and from electric vehicle infrastructure and urban planning to community economic development.

We came together at the invitation of Mayor Eric Garcetti and Peter Marx (Chief Innovation and Technology Officer) to galvanize the technology track of #techLA– the city’s inaugural Technology and Innovation Conference held in City Hall.

Tasked by Marx with facilitating a panel on the future of mobility, I seized the opportunity to spark an interdisciplinary conversation on the topic. Representing Art Center with me were two respected innovators: Geoff Wardle (Executive Director of the Graduate Transportation Design program) and Maggie Hendrie (Chair of the Interaction Design undergraduate program). Later that day, Art Center Graduate Transportation student, Retro Poblano, also presented his research on automated shuttles to the public.


Scholarship seeds a new generation of sustainability designers

Monday, May 12th, 2014
From Sam Julius' 'Sustainable Urban Housing' entry

From Sam Julius’ ‘Sustainable Urban Housing’ entry

Our homes, cell phones and laptop screens are filled with thoughtful and functional design. But what about art that creates social impact? Can design influence change on global issues like sustainable housing, access to clean water and empowering disadvantaged women?

Projects featuring practical solutions to these concerns designed by Product, Illustration and Environmental Design students were selected as the winners of the 2013-2014 Denhart Family Sustainability Scholarship competition. Created by a generous gift from Gun Denhart, and son, Christian Denhart (BS 10 Product), the prizes are annually awarded to students addressing environmental and social causes in their work. The scholarships are devised to increase awareness of art and design’s unique capacity to advance sustainability.


Designmatters co-founder, Mariana Amatullo, adds a voice for socially conscious design to the Executive Board of Cumulus

Monday, June 24th, 2013
Mariana Amatullo

Designmatters’ Mariana Amatullo

The intersection of art, design and social impact lies at the future-facing frontier of the design world. This rapidly evolving multidisciplinary field continues to grow in size and stature thanks in no small part to the groundbreaking work of Mariana Amatullo, Vice President of Designmatters at Art Center. Amatullo recently expanded her reach as a leader in the field after being appointed to the Executive Board of Cumulus, the International Association of Universities and Colleges of Art, Design and Media.

“As the official Art Center liaison to Cumulus for the last six years,” said Amatullo of her motivation to serve on the Executive Board, “I’ve been able to observe firsthand how effective the organization has been in creating dynamic collaborations among an expanding global network and community of educators and researchers, but also through cooperation with leading industry and key educational and professional networks such as for example, NASAD and AIGA in the US.”

Cumulus, the only global association to serve art and design education universities, has long supported and encouraged the movement to use design principles to advance positive social change. First on the organization’s list of ambitious goals is to support academic institutions of art, design and media in enhancing their contribution to society. Cumulus also works to foster dialogue and collaboration through its academic forum: biannual conferences hosted by member organizations provide a dynamic platform for international exchange, workshops and academic publishing.

Founded in 2000 with its Secretariat headquartered in Helsinki, Finland, at Aalto University School of Art, Design and Architecture, Cumulus has 198 member institutions in 48 countries. Art Center, which joined Cumulus in 2006, is one of only a dozen U.S. schools granted full membership.

As a member of the Executive Board, Amatullo will help develop policies, plan activities and manage the Association’s business affairs, in addition to implementing decisions made by Cumulus’ General Assembly.

“I am deeply honored to join the Cumulus board and a very dynamic group of international colleagues who share a profound dedication to cross-cultural discourse, innovation and research,” she said.   “Through my service, I will be seeking actionable pathways to advocate for the relevance of art and design education globally.  I am energized since I believe we are at an exciting crossroads in time for our field: we have the opportunity—and responsibility–to position the expertise of our universities as a potent source for new inquiry and agency in our contemporary world.”

Art Center Students Compete in WantedDesign’s International Water Challenge

Friday, May 17th, 2013

Can designers help solve the planet’s water crisis in just three days? That’s the question WantedDesign Challenge: Water Cycle aims to answer May 17–20 during New York Design Week.



Art Center Faculty and Alum Dive in to The Aquarium of the Pacific Series on Art, Science and Environment

Tuesday, April 23rd, 2013

The Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, Calif. will feature presentations by Art Center faculty members and an alumnus as part of its upcoming Aquatic Academy. Integrating art and science in order to enhance environmental communication, the Aquatic Academy offers a series of evening classes that foster dialogue on issues related to the ocean and environment.

Professor and Director of Sustainability Initiatives Heidrun Mumper-Drumm will be speaking on Thursday, April 25 from 7 to 9:30 p.m., while Vice President of Designmatters Mariana Amatullo and Alumnus Dan Goods, visual strategist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, will speak on Thursday, May 9 from 7 to 9:30 p.m. The series of four evening classes will explore how art, design and science can intersect to create and deliver powerful environmental messages.

Long Beach Aquarium

Art Center faculty will be speaking at the Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific.

Jerry Schubel, president and CEO of The Aquarium of the Pacific, says Goods, Mumper-Drumm and Amatullo bring an ideal combined expertise in the areas of engineering, design, visual communications and sustainability.


Designmatters Welcomes Fellow-in-Residency from Ireland, Sponsored Project Representative from Chile

Monday, March 11th, 2013
Dr. Muireann McMahon

Dr. Muireann McMahon, Designmatters Post-Doctoral Fellow-in-Residency. Photo by Alex Aristei.

Art Center welcomes Dr. Muireann McMahon who joins the Designmatters Department as the inaugural Designmatters Post-Doctoral Fellow-in-Residency through August.

McMahon is dedicating her six-month sabbatical, generously funded by the University of Limerick in Ireland, to contribute her teaching and research expertise to a variety of courses and projects during her time at the college.

For the Spring term, McMahon is embedded in the Product Design Sustainability course led by Heidrun Mumper-Drumm and Dice Yamaguchi. Her intent is to gain a close understanding of the transdisciplinary teaching methods and project-based learning that occurs across the college, with a particular focus on studying Designmatters courses, and the collaborative models the department has in place to structure social impact projects that yield real-world outcomes.

We caught up with McMahon during a mid-term presentation by a different group of Designmatters students, collaborating on the Coaniquem project led by Graphic Design faculty member Guillaume Wolf. The in-depth creative proposals they unveiled—for a campaign to raise awareness and funds to prevent and treat childhood burns—belied the short six-week time frame the 12 students had to develop them.


The Colombia Experience: Design is a Two-Way Street

Thursday, July 14th, 2011

The following post is from the Designmatters blog.

Guest Blogger Mariana Prieto di Colloredo (Product Design, 6th term) is the lead contact of Art Center’s social impact student organization Mustard, a member of the sustainability-focused student organization EcoCouncil and a candidate for the Designmatters Concentration in Art and Design for Social Impact.

Sustainability is more often than not linked to the responsible use of our planets resources to assure its availability for future generations. As true as this is, sustainability can also be applied to our own lives. As designers, we can “burn out” when we drain our creative resources but we can prevent this by refreshing and recharging ourselves from time to time.

While we are in school the opportunity to go out and research different cultures in a new, exciting and relaxed setting is limited, to say the least.

Because of this, EcoCouncil has taken the initiative to plan a research trip to explore a new country in a different and exciting way. This last spring Eco Council traveled for ten days to Colombia to remove ourselves from our comfortable surroundings and to work on a design project at an organic mango plantation in Anapoima, Colombia (a small town located 2 hours outside of Bogota).

Our goal was to come up with one design project during our time there while doing physical work at the farm and learning the inner workings of an organic plantation in Latin America.

After days of wielding a pickax, teak planting, mud fishing, milking, horseback riding and learning all there is to know about mango trees, we agreed the most valuable experience was working together with the farm workers through every step of the design process.