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Response to DO post "Why Design Won't Save the World"

Guest writer, David Stairs, posted his review of the Cooper Hewitt, Design for the Other 90%, exhibit in the August 20 Design Observer. David is the founding editor of Design-Altruism-Project and the executive director of Designers Without Borders, so he knows what he is talking about. The gist of his review is:

As it stands, this design showcase on Fifth Avenue in New York City seems removed from the exigencies of the world’s poorest five-sixths. Until designers and design curators spend more time in self-evaluation they’ll remain far from encouraging the dialogues or the learning that would bring about effective change for the billions who really are in need.

My response to the posting seems to be a call for a Human Subjects Review for design.

Context is King

There are so many interesting threads to untangle resulting from this post. As a design anthropologist, I really appreciate David's sensitivity to the limitations of design itself and the potential hubris that is always lurking in "armchair" altruism and philanthropy. Context is king, and it becomes "your chosen Deity" when you design for a context you don't truly understand.

Daniel Green's framing of the potential sources of failure for a design being sometimes functional and sometimes contextual is useful here.

Design always needs to be a true partnership between those embedded deeply within the context (yet knowledgeable of other relevant contexts where the problem exists) and those embedded in the design solutions. This is true whether it's a Fortune 500 client who understands her business context (functionally and culturally) or an Indian peasant who understands his fields (functionally and culturally as well). This has to be an equal partnership, which is sometimes the challenge as pointed out by J., Akh, Ryan Nee, and others.

Yet, satisfice is a dangerous proposition when you are dealing with people's basic survival (whether economic or cultural). When I conduct research, I have to complete a detailed Human Subjects Review to show that I am approaching my project with an idea towards (1) respect for persons through informed consent, (2) beneficence by listing the benefits and the risks associated with the project, and (3) justice in the selection of research participants. Design, given its potential functional and cultural impact on societies, should be held to the same ethical standards. (See the Belmont Report of 1979)

Of course, something akin to this is listed in AIGA's Standard for Professional Practice, but there is no review board to stop potentially unethical designing.

Comments

ramzesramz

Somehow time I climbed on is not present and, asking questions, found interesting and not so interesting answers. One of which was - « FailureAccident on the Chernobyl atomic power station, 4 power unit ». I became interesting and thumbing through sites was simply horrified. One I the fellow worker, in the past the meter man, has told about the friend which was the liquidator of consequences of this failureaccident, the truth or not I do not know. But spoke that - « firemen which extinguished a fire there, by turns washed in a showersoul groups, and muzhiks because of an irradiation were shone in darkness, but to live ithim remains few hours ».


Whitney Quesenbery

I knew about the "design for the other 90%" work from other sources, notably Patrick Whitney, but I went to the exhibit.

I was amused to see that it was out in the garden. And that despite the fact that most of the items being exhibited are practical products, intended for use, there were stern warnings everywhere not to touch.

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