An exhibition of 60 collaborative designs from throughout the United States and across borders, By the People challenges the country’s persistent social and economic inequality. Curator of Socially Responsible Design Cynthia E. Smith conducted over two years of field research—traveling to shrinking post-industrial cities, sprawling metro regions, struggling rural towns, areas impacted by natural and man-made disasters, and places of persistent poverty—in search of design for more inclusive and sustainable communities. Presented in the Barbara and Morton Mandel Design Gallery and the museum’s Process Lab, the exhibition delivers a powerful message of optimism for achieving a more just and equitable society for all Americans through design.

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PROCESS LAB: Citizen Design

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The museum’s Process Lab gives visitors firsthand experiences with the activities designers use to solve problems and develop new ideas. Now on view, Citizen Design, which invites visitors to engage, empathize, and help envision a better America. Citizen Design was inspired by the GRAY AREA project, featured in By the People, and developed in partnership with Interface Studio Architects. Learn more about Citizen Design.

Exhibition Highlights

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Designing the New Commons
Interview with Corinne Hill, director of the Chattanooga Public Library, who created a unique maker space and civic commons in the Library's downtown branch.
Defiant Jewelry: A Business Model for Challenging Social Injustice
Talk by Amy Peterson, cofounder and CEO, and Patricia Caldwell, production manager, of the Detroit-based jewelry design studio Rebel Nell. Conversation to follow with Cynthia E. Smith, Curator of Socially Responsible Design and curator of the exhibition By the People: Designing a Better America.
Empowering civilian designers
Designing a museum experience that encourages visitors to share knowledge and experiences.
Designing Recovery Housing
After Hurricanes Dolly and Ike left many families in Texas’ Lower Rio Grande Valley with damaged housing, a team of designers, policy makers, community developers, and organizers worked with the communities to foster social, cultural, and economic resilience. Two of these individuals, Juanita Valdez-Cox, Executive Director, LUPE (La Unión Del Pueblo Entero), and Brent Brown,...
Rebel Nell: Designing Against Defiant Odds
Amy Peterson, a Detroit lawyer, envisioned Rebel Nell—an enterprise that creates unique jewelry from scrap pieces of graffiti—after moving next to one of Detroit’s shelters. While walking her dog, she began talking to women she met, and after listening to their stories and challenges, Peterson started a social enterprise with a vision to help women...
Designing Humane Borders
Responding to migrant deaths along the Arizona-Mexico border due to dehydration, minister Robin Hoover (along with former Navy engineer Tim Holt) designed a system for placing water in the desert. Their project, Humane Borders Water Stations and Warning Posters, is featured in the exhibition By the People: Designing a Better America, curated by Cynthia Smith, Curator...
Designing with Empathy: By the People and Pratt
Cooper Hewitt collaborated with Pratt Institute students, who created socially-responsible designs based on experiences they had at two New York nonprofit organizations.
Mapping for Social Justice
In 2012, math professor Laurie Rubel developed, with support from the National Science Foundation, the City Digits project to help high school students learn math by examining urban injustices in their own New York City neighborhood. Partnering with civic designer Sarah Williams, the team designed a set of place-based learning tools to integrate richer data...
Designing Resilience to Climate Change: Workshop for College Students
In conjunction with the exhibition By the People: Designing a Better America, Cooper Hewitt collaborated with IBM to host a hands-on workshop that explored design thinking and the tools required to meet social, economic, and climate change challenges. Guest designers and By the People exhibitor Anthony Schloss from Brooklyn’s Red Hook WIFI initiative shared how their...