What is Design Activism?
This is the question I have been asking myself all week.
The article from this week titled “Scoping the Territory: Design, Activism, and Sustainability” defines design activism as “Taking actions to catalyze, encourage, or bring about change in order to elicit social, cultural, and/or political transformations”.
So…what exactly is a “transformation”? A transformation is defined as a thorough or dramatic change in form or appearance.
This past week I have focused on finding transformations around me. I believe that I found a few. Two of my observations are listed below.
- The iphone has transformed this week. With a new update for the “old” iphones and with the release of the new iphone, everyone seems to be talking about the new look at feel of the iphone.
- Fashion has transformed this week. With the end of New York Fashion Week and the beginning of fall, everyone seems to be dressing a little differently than they did during the first week of school.
Did someone specific take an action to make these transformations happen? If the answer is yes, design activism may be in the works. However, I believe that there is a deeper meaning to the meaning of “design activism”. When actively designing in a sustainable way, it is crucial to remember the question “is there a need for this transformation?”. Does the world really need an iphone update? Does the world really need a wardrobe refresh? Many would disagree on the answers to these two questions, however not many would argue with the answer to the question “Would it better orphans in third world countries to design comfortable, space-efficient, and sustainable beds?” I believe that there would be an overwhelming “yes” answer to this question.
An article from DeZeen Magazine was brought to my attention today. A space- saving “nested bed system” designed by Tsai Design Studio was released last month. The “nested bed system” was originally developed for a design competition that called for ways of comfortably sleeping five people in a 6×6 meter room – This small amount of space is typical in South Africa’s townships and poverty-stricken districts. Nested Bunk Beds consist of five mattresses on wheeled frames that can be stored against a wall during the day and then can extend out into five beds to at night. The system has several different uses. The photo below illustrates this system:
My personal definition of design activism is now “bettering the world through great design”. This bed system serves as only one example of the way that designers are creating more sustainability in the everyday lives of others. So maybe more importantly than the iphone and more importantly than the fashion, there was me. Maybe I was my own transformation this week?….Because I now have a radically different view of what design activism is, I have been transformed.