By Design Change Happens
Design. It's the single thread that runs through everything. What we see, do, touch, and experience. Sure design is the way things look, but it's also to the way things work. From systems of government, modes of transportation, educational structures, healthcare delivery, everything.
WHAT IS DESIGN?
Everyone is a designer. We design our appearance, our travel routes, our calendars, our rules, our attitudes and expressions toward each other. In the process, we communicate a myriad of things about ourselves, our tribe, our modus operandi.
In 2002, I co-curated What Is Design Today? for The Design Center at Philadelphia University. Based on ideas of sustainability, technology, and health, we created interactive community experiences, university level curriculum, symposia, hands-on workshops, and a student docent program.
The Graphic Imperative: International Posters for Peace, Social Justice & The Environment, The Design Center at Philadelphia University, Philadelphia, PA
CURATING CULTURES & CONTEXTS
I curated my first exhibition of works on paper, and installed it across my parent's lawn. I was 11. There was no opening, no programming, and no marketing. Those came with subsequent exhibitions and years of collaboration.
Like good design, good curators communicate nimbly, across language barriers, into our senses, through to our emotions. Good curators educate and advocate, influence and persuade. We open dialogues and provide educational experiences. We celebrate now, yesterday, and tomorrow. We consider impact. In the best cases, we catalyze progress.
ART & DESIGN
There's a fine line between art and design. While art expresses feelings, thoughts, and helps create community experiences,
design solves problems. Woven together, art and design impact people and affect change.
Lace in Translation featured three creatives from across the globe, asking them to interpret an historic lace collection through works of art and design. The curators and artists tested their expressions in a museum exhibition, workshops, videos, educational programs and a catalogue, funded largely by The Pew Center for Arts + Heritage.
The idea is simple: Look for patterns, overlaps, tangents, and intersections among seemingly unlikely elements. That's where growth opportunities emerge.
Intersection was designed to foster growth.
Speakers from science, health, business, technology, and culture lead provocative conversations on big data, global marketing, social media, sustainability, the built environment, and education during this symposium. It was a day that inspired the development of The Design Center at Philadelphia University, and later the birth of DesignPhiladelphia.
In 2005, I cofounded DesignPhiladelphia, the oldest design festival in America. Now in its 15th year, the initiative of 450 partners – funders, corporations, non-profits, hospitals, universities, creative services, and the media – come together annually to explore the impact of design on everyday life. Signature events include a university level exhibition, interactive kick-off and closing events, and neighborhood activated hubs.
DesignPhiladelphia showcases emerging designers who think globally and prototype their ideas locally, and centers on building community, both for professionals and the public. The festival has inspired a proliferation of similar initiatives across the country and around the globe.
If we ever doubt the power of design we can consider the swastika. A more potent visual is hard to find.
Measuring the impact of events and experiences is a different matter. How can we measure, in a meaningful way, the value of experiences, exhibitions, symposia, tours, and workshops? I've been considering this question for years.
In 2014, I engaged Econsult Solutions, LLC (ESI) to analyze the economic impact of DesignPhiladelphia. The culminating report focussed on the quantitative while skirting the qualitative. Measures of empathy, quality of life, and emotional well being are essential to measuring success - so essential that I have since joined ESI’s senior advisor team to help develop these indicators.
Change can be a good thing. Or not. A better mousetrap kills more mice. Good, except now there's a disposal problem. We solve one issue and create another.
Finding alternate paths and fresh perspectives is a design process. What is the problem at hand? Describe possible solutions. Test them with the affected population. Reiterate as needed until reaching a successful solution.
By design change happens.