On Friday, 9 August, I was honoured to be invited to the final thesis presentations of the seven members of the inaugural Media Design Practices/Field track “Design for UNICEF” course. I was asked to be one of the responders and thought I would capture a few words on the relationship between design, development, and the future.
“I was asked to say a few meta things – but before I do that, I wanted to step sideways and describe UNICEF briefly. It’s an amazing organization, a platform that exists to advocate for the rights of the world’s most vulnerable women and children – both at a ground-level, and with policy makers. It’s also an organization that is going through a set of redesigns – looking at realtime data for better programme implementation, different ways of working with partners, and more. It is an exciting time.
“We also know the world is changing, and the presentations we just saw reflected a consciousness of that change. Three things to think about:
“First: More than 50% of the world’s population will live in cities in the next few years.
Second: The youth population has grown – and that growth is making decisions happen in different ways, at different speeds, and with different trajectories than ever before. We saw it in the various parts of the Arab Spring, and we will see more evidence of the power of focused, young, vital minds.
Third: We are unquestionably living in an era of technological revolution and exponentially. Approximately 75% of the world’s population has access to a mobile phone and yet 738 million people do not have access to clean water. To steal from William Gibson – that exponentially is not evenly distributed.
“But we live in a time of great opportunity – where we realize that these three seismic changes will allow us to solve problems that affect each of us individually, but to solve them collectively. In fact, there is no other way that we will be able to address the big, global, wicked problems of our generation.
“I was asked to identify somethings that ran through these presentations, and there were a set of design opportunities and quandries that each of you highlighted.
“There was the issue of access to information, and access to opportunity – so much of the work of this collaboration has looked at how we can provide better information loops to those at the edges of society, who are most lacking exactly that type of access.
“You all talked a lot about involving people, end users, in your design. But it was interesting that it was not only in the design, but also in your discourse. And this is a new trend – or rather, it’s a sign of a type of collaboration that when used as a lens to the big global changes – urbanization, youth population, technology growth and so on – becomes a very powerful tool.
“Finally, you all talked somehow about the space between formal and informal systems. As those lines blur even more – or as the space between those systems grow bigger due to lack of resources and a changing world, ideas, models and concepts that can bridge the gap – or that can create new constructs in the gap between – will provide leverage and access for the world’s most underserved populations.
“I wanted to present three design questions to you – and they are simple:
“First question: with all your projects you talked about concrete instances – instantiations – of your complex ideas. This is important, because without the concrete it is hard for others to interact with your constructs. How do you make those prototypes of conceptual models early, flexibly, and publicly?
“Second question: what are you leaving behind? You all talked about working with communities who cared about you, who spent their time with you. What artifacts do you create that they can access – but also that others can access after your attention moves to other things.
“Third question: and this is related to the first two. How do you build networks and connect to others in your design process so that it is done with a lack of ego, with a lack of hubris, with a sentiment that you – as a designer at your best – are a connector of others, a strengthener of others, an amplifier of voices from different spaces?
“Answering those three questions positions you to think about scale – and for the size of the problems that we face today issues of scale, of global relevance, and of absolute speed and determination are central.
“Thank you so much for inviting me; it’s been a pleasure to be a part of this journey.”
Look for more great work from Art Center students as their second cohort leaves for Uganda mid-September, 2013