This is the second of the grand challenges posed by Secretary Wayne Clough for the new strategic plan of the Smithsonian, with the explanatory sentence:

“We will use our resources across scientific museums and centers to significantly advance our knowledge and understanding of life on earth, respond to the growing threat of environmental change, and sustain human well-being.”

Here we have three huge challenges for design rolled into one sentence! Let’s pose some “How might we…?” questions about how a design organization like the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum can help.

Fiona Raby and Tony Dunne

How might we respond to the design implications of new knowledge about life on earth, generated by the scientific resources of the Smithsonian? Design starts with people, so we can examine the new understanding by imagining the experiences that will be generated for people. For example, how can we design bio and nano technologies? I am fascinated by the explorations of the social implications of this new knowledge developed by Tony Dunne and Fiona Raby in the Design Interactions program at the Royal College of Art in London.

Professor Takemura demonstrating the Tangible Earth project

How might we respond to the growing threat of environmental change? (That’s a challenge of stunning grandeur in itself) Design can help in seeing and communicating a holistic picture of our planet, as demonstrated in the Tangible Earth project by Professor Takemura. We can also recommend actions at a pragmatic level, advancing practices of recycling, design for disassembly, sustainable materials and so on. Perhaps we can collaborate with Smithsonian scientists to understand the complexities of the challenge more deeply?

AdSpecs from Adaptive Eyecare at the National Design Triennial

How might we sustain human well-being? This question is answered in many different ways in the National Design Triennial exhibition Why Design Now?. The show opened last Thursday, with more than two thousand people at the reception. There are 134 examples of design from around the world that respond to eight themes. The collection is both illuminating and optimistic.

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