11 June 2011

Design with the Other 90 Percent: Cities


I would argue that the biggest events in design for social impact this year were not in sustainable design, service design, or design innovation, but in civic space: people rising up, occupying their cities, streets, and public squares, and using graphics, their bodies, and their cities as both place and medium to express themselves and shake the pillars of state across west Asia, north Africa, and southern Europe.

So it’s with some interest that I’m looking forward to Design with the Other 90 Percent: Cities, an upcoming exhibition organized by the Cooper-Hewitt. I was somewhat skeptical of the previous incarnation, the 2007 Design for the Other 90%, wherein the national design museum took a break from its usual curatorial criteria to focus on appropriate technology gadgets. Indeed, a more critical eye would have been welcome: the XO Laptop is aesthetically pleasing and swaddled in do-good discourse, but has otherwise been roundly criticized as a failure. Likewise, the LifeStraw, featured on the exhibition catalog cover itself turns out to be a carbon trading scam.

But the museum is having another go. To my delight the idea of design for social impact has been institutionalized and in October a second exhibition will focus on design for social impact and cities. This time the exhibit will take place at the United Nations while the museum is under renovation — a fortuitous move that nudges it quietly into the realm of advocacy.

And finally (and just as important) the name has been edited from design for to design with. It’s a promising change.