Intelligent Coalitions

One participant, frog’s Robert Fabricant, captured the day’s conversation with a series of sketches.

The one-day Social Impact Design Summit, held on February 27, 2012, brought together individuals who engage in socially responsible design every day: public-interest architects, industrial designers, planners, civil-society designers, landscape architects, engineers, and inventors from Australia, Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas, working in the private, public and social sectors. The day focused on the following key questions: What are the gaps that hinder growth? What are the successful and sustainable organizational models? How can we build systemic, sustainable support for current and future designers in the field? One fundamental gap is limited recognition of the value of design in the social sector, curtailing demand for design services. Social design lacks clearly defined and accessible language, identity, and standards. There is no pipeline in place, nor incentives and limited opportunity to build experiences in the social sector, which prevents practitioners from committing full-time to this area of design. Knowledge gaps exist in understanding socioeconomic and cultural differences and the underlying causes that created the problems, which may in fact require more systemic solutions – not yet prevalent in social design. Later in the day, more thinkers, funders, and designers joined the discussion to brainstorm strategies and actions. There were a number of ideas formulated, including establishing a culture of evaluation using storytelling; data visualization and case studies to describe the value and impact of design; creating intelligent coalitions such as Web-based knowledge hubs; and imbedded community innovation centers that build local knowledge and capacity through global partnerships among the centers, funders, universities, local innovators, and private companies. We plan to post a series of short video blogs from the day and have invited participants to write guest posts to extend the conversation. The ideas will be compiled in a white paper this spring. We want to hear from you, too. Please contribute to the conversation by sharing your thoughts in the comment section below.

Cynthia E. Smith, Curator of Socially Responsible Design, Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum The Summit was planned in partnership with the Lemelson Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.