DESIGN 21: 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.
Q: What is Social Design?
A: It’s design for the greater good.
We want to use the power of good design for greater purpose.
We believe the real beauty of design lies in its potential to improve life. That potential first manifests itself as a series of decisions that result in a series of consequences. The practice of social design considers these decisions on a greater scale, understanding that each step in the design process is a choice that ripples out into our communities, our world and our lives. These choices are the result of informed ideas, greater awareness, larger conversations and, most importantly, the desire to do good. Social design is design for everyone’s sake
– Website of the nonprofit/UNESCO project Design 21
Design, usually considered in the context of applied arts, engineering, architecture, and other creative endeavors, is used both as a noun and a verb. As a verb, “to design” refers to the process of originating and developing a plan for a product, structure, system, or component. As a noun, “a design” is used for either the final (solution) plan (e.g. proposal, drawing, model, description) or the result of implementing that plan (e.g. object produced, result of the process). More recently, processes (in general) have also been treated as products of design, giving new meaning to the term “process design”.
Designing normally requires a designer to consider the aesthetic, functional, and many other aspects of an object or a process, which usually requires considerable research, thought, modeling, interactive adjustment, and re-design.
My goal to create designers – students who are able to draw upon diverse sources of information to create end products and processes that are innovative, functional, and promote the “greater good” (see my post on acts of post modern assemblage in the classroom). Design is a multidisciplinary process – history, science, art, psychology, sociology, communications, technology, and math are all relevant. At the root of all design, whether it be for engineering, social justice, or fashion, is a profound understanding of the personal narratives of others. As dy/dan says:
Storytelling is the umbrella above design. It’s harder than design and simultaneously accessible to every single person on Earth, young and old, regardless of education or station or toolbox. It’s been around since forever, the setting up of heros and villains (your “characters”), the establishing of a guiding goal (your “narrative”), the careful positioning of challenges between them and their goal (your “obstacles.”)
My point is that, if you know how to tell a precise, articulate, and moving story, if you know how to build intrigue about a character in the first act, how to lull your audience into a happy, contented place in the second act, only to punch them precisely in the gut in the third, you have this fantastic skill which applies absolutely EVERYwhere.
Essay writing. Music composition. Graphic Design. Videography. Salesmanship. Teaching. Especially teaching. Especially these days. This list keeps building in my head during hours when I oughtta be sleeping.
Storytelling is the skill. Everything else is just its instrument.
I had a similar epiphany about human communication when I first started debating in college. I realized that debate was is about three stories. The most important story is the one in the judge’s mind. The secondary story is the one I’m trying to tell (or sell). The least important story is that of the opponent. Winning a debate round is a triumph of design: molding intellectual matter into a compelling narrative that intertwines with personal narratives of others (sometimes design is a violent process that displaces the narratives of others altogether – I’ve been compared to the character Nick Naylor from Thank You for Smoking, but that’s another post altogether).
When I stumbled across the Design 21 page (linked on Wanderlust‘s blog), I realized that I have to view teaching and activism through the lens of design. The most important narrative is that of my students – their goals, triumphs, tribulations, needs, and hormones. There are many other narratives that compete for supremacy in the classroom – teacher, parent, school, district, state, socioeconomic status, gang/violence/negative influence, peer, religion, and the list goes on (forever). Teaching branches into morality because we choose which narratives inhabit our sphere. I hope that I can intertwine the narratives of students with the right combination of secondary narratives so that students grow into thoughtful, functional, and interesting human beings. In order to function in our democratic and capitalist society, students need the skills to create their own narratives and influence the narratives of others.
Check out the Design 21 website. There are design competitions that involve education. What will you design today?
My design to-do list for 6 June 2008:
– A cute bento
– Something for the sake of activism and social justice.
– A Father’s Day gift to mend broken bridges.
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