Design Solutions Can Improve Society

I just read an interesting article in Fast Company about a non-profit firm that’s using design to improve people’s lives. The article discusses how Participle created an environment for seniors called the Peckham Circle that combines technology like Webcams with a new social enviornment that engages seniors in a network of relationships. According to Hilary Cottam, founding director of Participle, “The secret of a happy old age is getting on top of the everyday and being networked. The circles can help.”

What’s interesting about Participle is that it’s not a group of social workers. It’s an interdisciplinary design team with anthropologists, economists, entrepreneurs, psychologists, social scientists, and a military-logistics expert. Here’s Cottam’s mission for the firm, which she calls a social business: “To crack the intractable social issues of our time.”

My take: I applaud Cottam. It’s great to see design being used to solve social issues. I looked for a definition of “design solutions” that captured this approach, but I couldn’t find any that I liked. Rather than continuing to hunt for a codified definition for “design solutions,” I created this one:

An approach for creating environments — including interactions, products, processes, communications, and aesthetics — that are tailored to meet the expressed and unexpressed needs of people who experience them.

Many of today’s institutions were designed based on assumptions that have become outdated or were never designed with end users in mind. So there are many opportunties for design solutions to dramatically improve areas like healthcare, education, elder care, banking, and public safety.

What can design solutions provide?

  • A focus on the true (end user) requirements
  • Innovative approaches that break existing paradigms
  • Efficient solutions that deal with real-world constraints

The bottom line: The world would be better off with more design solutions.

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