Can Design Improve the World?

>> Monday, May 17, 2010

I recently went to the National Design Triennial exhibition at Cooper-Hewitt—WHY DESIGN NOW? As it turns out, that is a very poignant question. From what I saw the more compelling designs answer that question in incredibly varied ways, but with one common denominator: simplicity.

Here’s the exhibition’s website, or see what other people had to say @triennial.

Many of the ideas I saw were inspirational, innovative or just plain smart, but I will highlight two that stood out for me.



In the UK alone, more than three million people over the age of sixty-five do not see a friend, neighbor, or family member in any given week. That is statistically and emotionally shocking. The World Health Organization rates isolation as greater health risk than smoking. It impacts people’s ability to stay engaged mentally as well as their social and physical activity.

UK-based public-service design firm Particle came up with a brilliant solution.

Knowing what we know about how engaging digital social networks are, they applied that insight but utilized a relevant technology: the good old telephone.

Users can participate in the network by creating a profile that lists their interests. This file is then distributed to other participants enabling like-minded people to contact each other. Get-Together hosted calls and ran phone groups, as well as organizing transportation to visit galleries, museums and gardens. Not only facilitating telephone social networks but face-to-face contact.

What I found most refreshing was how new technology—and the behavior of those who adapt it—can inspire solutions for people that have no connection to it.

watch the video

patciple’s website


DISCLOSURE: I’m slightly obsessed with maps and I was born in the third world.

Most maps are representations of land-mass. Which, as you can imagine, is a very limited visual way to communicate the complexities of the different regions on the globe. In other words, Texas and China appear important, but Rhode Island and Uruguay, not so much.

Yet, we’ve been looking at the map of the world all of our lives.

So why not use that very familiar image to depict social and economic activities, such as cell-phone use, public health spending, average family income, etc.

Worldmapper does just that.

Called a cartogram, each map is like a global pie chart. The shapes and sizes of countries vary in relationship to their dominance in certain categories.

You kind of have to see it to experience it.


Sergio Flores



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