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Ananya Roy

The Reliable Adventurer-Warrior

Design for Social Innovation: Human-centred to Humanity-centred

42 years ago, Victor Papanek, the father of responsible design, made a scary observation. “By creating whole species of permanent garbage to clutter up the landscape, and by choosing materials and processes that pollute the air we breath, designers have become a dangerous breed.”

Our understanding of design today was formed in the early years of the 20th century. There was a willingness to embrace mass production and emerging forms of consumer capitalism. Designers focused on enhancing the look and functionality of products that wasted natural resources, aggravated the environmental crisis and ignored social and moral responsibilities.

Since then there has been a slow but steady move towards sustainability and transformational change. More and more design professionals and organisations today are genuinely dedicating their skills to make the world a better place, and there is a further shift from ‘human-centred’ to ‘humanity-centred’ design. Unlike their engineering counterparts, who start from technology or science, designers have a certain advantage when it comes to socially relevant design - they start from people and their experiences.

Here are a few delightful examples to prove the potential of design thinking in social innovation:

  • The Ultra 10 ten piece wardrobe for 365 days counters overconsumption in fashion.
  • Chris Cattle’s grown furniture are free, non-polluting, bio-degradable and use only the sun’s energy.
  • MASS Design Group show how architecture fits snugly into the health care cause.

We are surrounded by a plethora of pressing social challenges - global climate change, inadequate food supply, poor quality of healthcare, lack of education resources, increasing inequality, rising poverty, unstable economies. At the same time, new technologies are transforming the way we live, and markets are undergoing massive change. Designers are refusing to accept the bad that comes with the good - the pollution that comes with the energy, the unsafe working conditions that come with low prices, the toxic materials that come with convenient packaging.

Tiles are harvesting renewable energy from footsteps every time someone walks over them. One handed condom wrappers are transforming a mood kill into something dignified and charming. Jewellery is being crafted by blind craftswomen using smell to enhance their skills. These are just a few of the many life-improving design entries for INDEX: Award 2013, that go to show that design for social innovation can extend beyond the non-profit sector and the under-served, underrepresented, and disadvantaged communities of the world. It is ready to deal with practically every issue that impacts society at large.

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