Thursday, February 10, 2011

'Design Difference' in Review

In November 2010, Japan Society’s Innovators Network convened 20 designers, architects, nonprofit leaders and the media from Japan, the U.S., Vietnam and Thailand. The three-day program, The Design Difference, looked at design as a tool for social change. For this project, we partnered with three incredible organizations: Common Ground, The Designers Accord and GOOD.

The program began with a visit to Brooklyn's Brownsville, which has the highest concentration of public housing in the U.S., and where more than half of the residents live under the official poverty line. What we saw and learned is described by Alissa Walker in the first of a three-part series she wrote for GOOD. The article, “The Design Difference: In Brownsville, Enormous Urban Challenges, and Hope” highlights the challenges facing Brownsville, some of the incredible work already underway, and why Japan Society organized the project. Walker notes in her conclusion:
Solutions tested in this community could be replicated anywhere if they work. The question now became, how could design make a difference? And how could we—outsiders, with only a tenuous connection to the neighborhood—help in a way that was meaningful?
This was followed by “The Design Difference: Using Design to Conduct a Problem-solving Workshop”, which explains the process and tools developed by designer Valerie Casey for the workshop. Material is available for anyone to use for their own brainstorming sessions through links in the article. Rich Streimatter-Tran, an artist who teaches RMIT Vietnam and a participant in the project, has already put the materials to good use in his design class in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

The final article in the series, “The Design Difference, How You Can Propose Ideas for Brownsville”, focuses on five priority areas and solutions that came out of the project. Designers, architects, and others who want to volunteer or have resources to donate, were asked to take up the challenge and contribute pro bono work for the proposed solutions. (How to go about this post project is all laid out in the article.)[UPDATE: Added volunteer details below.]

In addition to a thorough recap of the project, Walker touched on the evolution of design making a difference:
In many ways, the charrette highlighted the way that designers have shifted from creating things to creating ideas, which Casey has also seen through the Designers Accord's work. "Three years ago we focused on evolving our design practices by applying the principles of sustainability to the objects we were creating," says Casey. "Now we are applying our craft to create the kind of content and change in a way that supersedes 'design,' and is utterly more connected with society at large."


Here's how to help: If you're a design firm and want to contribute pro bono work for Brownsville, register with The 1% and send an email to designdifference [at] japansociety [dot] org with the subject line "Design Firm" alerting our team that you're ready to be matched with a Brownsville client.

If you're a designer or architect and you want to submit a design proposal for one of the five priority areas, send an email to designdifference [at] japansociety [dot] org with the subject "Design Proposal" and include a brief summary of your idea for Brownsville, as well as a link to your work.

If you'd like to volunteer or if you have resources to donate for an upcoming workday to help implement one of the ideas, send an email to designdifference [at] japansociety [dot] org with the subject "Volunteer" and you'll be added to a future email list with more information about how you can get involved.

For more great photos from this event:

Photos by Ayumi Sakamoto.

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