Last night academia from leading design schools with social good curriculum and practitioners from the development space met to discuss the practicalities and learnings from designing for social good. Chris Fabian, co-lead at UNICEF”s Innovation unit, kicked off the evening by noting that designing for social good is not sexy. Rallying age-old institutions to deconstruct and re-position themselves to implement real systemic change is hard work. Constraints pose opportunities for designers to sink their teeth into but re-designing a system or process is a lot less hero-based and thus more of a challenge to creative design students. Mariana Amatullo, VP of the Designmatters program at the Art Center College of Design, noted that not all students are built to take on the complex set of challenges that designing for good entails and their program acknowledges and works with students to equip them for the some of the tough realities. Anne Burdick, Chair, MFA in Media Design for Media Designmatters at the Art Center, commented that designing for good can be a humbling experience which can be hard to teach around when there is such a cache of “successful design” around. There is often no “thing” that gets prototyped, but Allan Chochinov, Chair, MFA Products of Design, School of Visual Arts, pointed out that “information” should be treated as “material” in the analysis process. He also asked if it was arrogant to think that we could ever “solve” a problem, rather we work on iterations and evolutions which get us closer to affecting a change. Jamer Hunt, Director, MFA in Transdisciplinary Design at the New School for Design at Parsons, noted that they take on problems in their curriculum that don’t fit into other programs, the conceptual and speculative projects, and asked, how do you prototype the non-linear?
We all think of designing for good as working in the field – working in health, cash transfers or something that requires embedding yourself in another culture. Rarely do we think about the business models that we are up against here when funding social good. The “other” cultures which are our ir-retractable silo’d organizational models that have narrowed the opportunities and benefits that partnering for social benefit that can deliver. Fortunately for all us fundraisers, Allan volunteered to partner with UNICEF to iterate this problem and get us closer to change.