Design Revolution by Emily Pilloton

Design Revolution

RATING: 7/10

Great book of sustainable design porn which inspires you to create more than just beautiful objects. The first part includes essays by Allan Cochinov ( and by Emily Pilloton, founder of Project H Design. Calls for us to think about what we are designing, not just how.

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Good design manifests an economy of materials, clarity of purpose, and a delight in use.

At the start of any worthy design project is a strategic phase –an examination of “exactly what are we trying to do here?” Some practitioners call this needs assessment, some call it problem definition, some call it discovery.

Change the ingredients, change the results; there’s that cookie recipe

The design conversation moves from form, function, beauty, and ergonomics to accessibility, affordability, sustainability, and social worth. Throw in green materials, renewable energy, cultural appropriateness, responsible labor practices, and a big dollop of respect for the end user, and yes, you’ve got a wholesome recipe for social change.

Designers would do well to remember they are not in the artifact business. They are in the consequence business.

No use in playing the blame game…“I’ve never met a designer who didn’t, fundamentally, want to make things better.” –John Thackara

There’s a cruel irony in designers running around, busily creating more and more garbage for our great grandchildren to dig up, breathe, and ingest, all the while calling themselves “problem solvers.”

Some of the best “design solutions” rise forth from people who aren’t “credentialed” designers at all.

The whole notion of what designers are, exactly, seems to become blurrier every year.

“There are all of the areas where design is deployed. Architecture, Engineering, Products, Graphics, Multimedia, Information Technology, Social Services, Disaster Relief, and so on. How can [design] be expected to have a coherent meaning across all of them?”

Project H Design founded on $1,000 in savings, two design degrees, over $70,000 in student loans, and “office space” at the dining room table at parents house.

We must design with communities, rather than for clients, and rethink what we’re designing in the first place, not just how we design the same old things.

I believe that design has always been the most direct manifestation of two human instincts: to shape our physical environment and to improve life.

Henry Ford thought the Model T would provide an affordable and accessible mobility to Americans while creating jobs through a new model of industrial scale production.

We have to remember that industrial design equals mass production, and that every move, every decision, every curve we specify is multiplied—some times by the thousands and often by the millions.

Product design is about multiplicity that is rooted in the amplification of small ideas.

By designing criminally unsafe automobiles that kill or main nearly one million people around the world each year, by creating whole new species of permanent garbage to clutter up the landscape, and by choosing materials and processes that pollute the air we breathe, designers have become a dangerous breed. –Papanek

We’re obsessed with buzzwords and think tanks, where we should be focused with the user and “do tanks.”

Many of our so-called “solutions” are effectively designs for design sake, self-congratulatory artistic exercises that are appreciated primarily within the design community and photographed for design magazines.

It [environmental sustainability] is only as good as its social understanding and appropriate implementation, and it will falter without public awareness and education.

While “green” means environmentally responsible, “sustainable” encompasses all aspects of responsibility and foresight: environmental, social, economic, cultural, and humanitarian.

What good is such a “sustainable” product if its proper disposal is neither possible nor understood by users?

Social entrepreneurship is the application of entrepreneurial business practices and principles to organize, create, and manage a venture that both incites social change and makes a profit for some or all stakeholders.

For example, IDE distributes bamboo treadle pumps to increase productivity and profits for small acreage farmers in Bangladesh and other Asian countries. The pumps are manufactured locally, creating new production enterprises, jobs, and industries, in addition to promoting individual agricultural profits.

leapfrogging: a theory that says developing markets should be able to skip, or leap over, inferior or less efficient technologies and more directly to the more advanced ones. Example: cell phones.

Without contextual understanding and user feedback, a design for social impact will likely fall short of its intentions—however good they are.

Milton Glasser often says, ‘Good design is good citizenship.’

I believe…that design for societal benefit is a personal obligation, and that design can, in fact, make life better. A citizen designer, then, is one who is able to balance the two.

If you’re designing water filters, you must take responsibility if the filter does not effectively remove E. coli and then take measured action to fix your mistake.

If we are defining design as “problem solving with grace and foresight,” you’ll find that designers, or those who employ such creative problem solving, exist in every corner of the world, using context, material, and ingenuity to produce systems that work.

Design thinking: 1. Hit the streets. 2. Recruit T-shaped people (people with both knowledge and a particular expertise), 3. Build to think. 4. The prototype tells the story. 5. The design is never done.

While art is merely statement, design is statement, action, and solution, making it a much more viable candidate for trust and belief, the same way medicine is.

For every ‘celebrity architect’ there are hundreds of designers around the world, working under the ideal that it is not just how we build but what we build that matters.

Is that $500 vase made from recycled glass more sustainable than a tool for HIV/AIDS education simply because of how it was made?

We must reprioritize the objects that make up our product world to value the things that heal and empower and redefine sustainability based on what we’re producing in the first place, rather than simply the means by which those things are made.

Sustainability is not simply about what things are made of, but how they improve life and empower people now and for generations to come.

Give social sustainability equal weight: the first is designing systems that are sustainable in material yet can also be implemented and understood by users. This requires a thorough understanding of our users, based on fieldwork and new strategies for human-centered research. Second, we must approach both environmental and social sustainability as inevitable inseparable and complementary entities.

“How good is good enough? “How much innovation constitutes invention?” Is just improving enough?” The answer, it seems, is that incremental design is natural, viable process for widespread innovation, but those small increments must be part of a broader plan driven by a thoroughly articulated goal.

Service design may be the new “objectless” product design, employing similar creative thinking but resulting in a deliverable based on human factors rather than matter.

Is there a way to deliver an efficient and sustainable solution without relying on the production of a highly engineered, virgin object?

Design thinking should be a solution-building process rather than something to be approached with an object-as-solution mindset.

“I have all my life been considering distant effects and always sacrificing immediate success and applause to that of the future. In laying out Central Park we determined to think of no result to be realized in less than 40 years.” –Frederick Law Olmsted

Ingenuity, as opposed to innovation, is more personal, rooted in an individual’s clever solutions to problems at hand. “Necessity is the mother of invention.”

Appropriate technologies is a field of engineering that designs, builds, and implements basic technological systems that are suitable for a particular location and the skills, materials, and needs of a demographic.

We as designers can learn from this model, refocusing our efforts away from mass production toward more targeted, service-based, and locally inspired solutions that can be scaled and applied in other contexts.

Education theories attest to “contstructionism” and “manipulatives” as the most effective way for children to learn mathematical concepts because they form both mental and physical models, linking the tangible and conceptual.

Build solutions at full scale, not just as a means to represent ideas, but in order to think, develop, and iteratively prototype.

Particular to humanitarian design is a greater need for “co-created” design solutions that bring the user into the equation, creating a system by which the object is worthless without human interaction.

This creates solutions that are longer lasting and more meaningful and that make the user experience as integral piece of the puzzle.

The first rule of humanitarian design is to design with, not for, your client or community.

Ex. If you’re designing a low-cost water filter for a consumer water brand, talk to the rural communities that need it most.

[design for the other 90%] because this entire argument is rooted in an “us-versus-them-mentality, it uses differences as a point of departure for the design process. In reality, what we need more than ever is inspiration through unity, a realization that our clients are co-creators, and that we as designers are also clients and the users.

Before traveling half way around the world, look for local design opportunities: who is not being served in your own city? Could a design investment in your community help support a more productive and cohesive economy and culture?

Design as capital means providing a tool for someone to help herself out of poverty, start a business, produce enough to invest new equity, or otherwise turn a little into a lot.

“I think even the most successful designer can afford to give one-tenth of his time. It is unimportant what the mechanics of the situation are: four hours out of every 40, one working day out of every 10, or ideally, every 10th year to be spent as a sort of sabbatical, designing for many instead of designing for money.” –Papanek

We must consider the client as the person or group we are serving and involve those people in doing so, we will be able to refocus our efforts on the user experience and basic human needs, rather than catering solely to the brand, bank account, and priorities of the corporate client.

If we designers are as committed as we way we are to applying design thinking in places that truly need it, then let’s do just that. Let’s solve problems where they need solving—not in confined loft office spaces we traditionally inhabit, but out in the world, in organizations, communities, and instructions that can benefit form design based ideas. Let’s rewrite our own job description so that they be applicable outside the design bubble, in places where design thinking is a scarce resource, and where creative problem solving has the greatest potential for impact.

At the same time, if we want to “take to the streets,” we’ve got to know the streets and clearly define the limits of our own expertise and understanding.

It is nothing short of arrogant for us to sit in our offices in London, New York, or San Francisco and assume we can design solutions to problems in rural Africa without taking the time to go there and understand context.

Fieldwork has become an afterthought, not a starting point.

Beginning in 2005, the British government began taking steps toward the widespread implementation of in-home Smart Meters, tools that measure and display energy consumption inside, rather than outside the home. —test cases resulted in up to 10% reduction in energy.

Feedback triggered change: by which the user reorients her actions toward efficiency and personal responsibility based on the availability and understanding of information.

Beauty is merely an enhancement to that which already has value.

Let us look to beauty as a means to catalyze already great ideas, but not prioritize beauty over function or human relevance.

Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier, but while thinking big we must always remember that design is for people: your grandmother and your neighbor, a farmer, a squatter, a prisoner, and an average Joe. The singular user is paramount. Design succeeds when it begins with small stories and is later scaled to produce a larger impact that is at the same time global and personal.” Colin Powell