Engaged Design

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“What did design ever do for us?” Although this is a paraphrase of a famous Monty Python gag, it’s still a good question and depending on the context in which the question is asked and to whom, the question becomes even more searching. A cursory analysis of the media would lead one to believe that design is the preserve of the affluent, the top ten percent of society or even less. But what about the other ninety percent of the world’s population and their needs? What has design ever done for them? It has long been suggested that design can play a significant role in the solution of many of the world’s issues and problems. However, this is unlikely to happen in any sustainable way unless we as designers become better at understanding our role as facilitators and co-producers rather than the “creatives” that prescribe solutions without getting our hands dirty or getting to grips with the real issues. There is a long-standing interest in the role that design can play in areas of need. However, little work has been done and little has been published about how to engage with this area in a helpful and sustainable manner and how we prepare students to do the same. The challenge before us is to train a generation of self-aware designers who understand the impact and implications of their actions and perhaps most importantly the context into which they will be intervening. It is time to translate the groundswell of interest in this area into tangible sustainable initiatives that co-produce positive change at a grass roots level.