Blog 9: Design Activism

I can’t believe I am sitting here writing sustainability blog 9 out of 10! (excluding the final blog) With only a few weeks left of the semester and with only 40 days until graduation, school and life are getting pretty crazy! Last week in sustainability, we discussed design activism. I really did not understand what “design activism” meant until I read the Tim Brown reading. I think design activism can best be defined by the words, “design for people, not profit.” This is a statement I read in the Tim Brown reading that truly stood out to me. The examples Brown used such as the creation of KickStart for farmers in East Africa, the universal remote transaction device for emerging markets in developing countries, and the Aravind Eye Hospital in India all show designs created to better people’s lives instead of designs created strictly for economic profit. Another extremely important topic Brown discussed was how the education system needs to support and nurture creativity in students in all stages of education and not only in their early years of education. In order to have more design thinkers in our future, schools need to encourage and amplify activities that involve the use of the right brain. Schools tend to stop doing activities that involve creativity once students get into middle school and high school and focus strictly on left brain activities, which only focuses on logic. It is important to do activities that involve both, but if students continue to be discouraged to apply creativity to their academic and professional careers, we will start to see a decline in design thinkers. If we start seeing less and less design thinkers, we will start to see less and less designs that are created for bettering human life and more designs created for economic reasons. Design activism, which is designing for people, not profit, works within many unique constraints and focuses on the extreme user, and is different than active design. Active design is the concept of designing things that support healthy living and create healthy communities. Many active design solutions can be found in urban cities such as Portland and Seattle. After visiting these two cities this year, I definitely related the idea of active design to these cities. Examples I saw are the many bike lanes on almost all the streets as well as community bikes that can be used for transportation all over town. These two things support healthy living and building a healthy community by giving the people and the community an alternative solution to normal transportation.

We also talked about the two primary types of capital, human and natural, and how design activism is about building various types of capital, mostly human. When it comes the making of a piece of clothing, it has major impacts on human and natural capital. Poor human capital is involved when companies use cheap labor to manufacture the item of clothing. To support a stronger human capital, the company should use skilled workers to create the product and pay their workers fairly. Poor natural capital can be seen in the making of a piece of clothing when a company creates the clothing by using non-renewable resources. To create a stronger natural capital, the company should find ways to manufacture their product by using highly renewable resources and design the article of clothing to be reused.

The concept of design activism now holds a special place in my heart now that I have learned the meaning. I have been to Uganda, Africa twice in my life and this has showed me many problems developing countries face that need immediate attention, but these problems cannot be solved unless developed countries step in and help them. A problem that I am passion about that needs immediate attention is the lack of a strong education system for children. If the children in Uganda are not able to receive an education, the other problems such as poverty and hunger will continue to worsen. Developed countries need to step in and teach the citizens of Uganda the importance of education as well as how to educate their children. Developed countries need to help build schools and find teachers and staff that are willing to learn from these developed countries which will create a sustainable school system once the citizens of the developed countries leave.

To end the discussion of design activism, we ended with the Halloween party in class activity. As a learning community, we were to come up with a sustainable Halloween party concept that encompassed the idea of design activism as well as integrate the concept of waste=food, biomimicry, industrial ecology, biophilia, and human needs. This seemed easy at first until we really started to discuss it. The hard thing about this activity was coming up with something unique from the other learning communities. My learning community went last, and therefore most of our ideas were already said! We were bummed, but we did have the idea that in order to get into the party, people must bring something from their pantry such as a can of soup or box of cereal, that they believe they would eventually throw away. We would collect these items and give them to the homeless or a local charity in need of food. This was our unique way of integrating waste=food!

Last but not least, our class had the wonderful opportunity to hear Maria Thiry, the publications and membership director of AATCC, discuss a few textile sustainability topics. She started off my discussing what AATCC actually is, which it is a not for profit professional association devoted to providing test method development, quality control, educational development, and networking for textile/apparel professionals around the world. There are 2600 members in 60 countries worldwide. Maria talked about the 3 pillars of sustainability: people, profit, and planet. A big part of her talk was about the Greenpeace dirty laundry report. This report exposed companies that are harming the environment and people by not practicing sustainability. This report evolved into a detox campaign which encourages companies to have zero discharge of all hazardous chemicals, use prevention and precaution, and last but not least, providing the consumer with the right to know and being completely transparent about their practices.

I am looking forward to these last few weeks of class and building on our final project idea with my learning community! 🙂

Also, even though the outcome was not what we wanted, the game was still amazing and I think we can all say that we are all still LOYAL & TRUE. I read something on social media after the game that said, “still loyal.. still true.. still glad I don’t go to OU.” 😉 GO POKES!

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