Engaged Design

By James. W.R Fathers.

Published by The International Journal of Design in Society

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

This colloquium explores the role of design as a key factor in the development and sustainability of small-scale enterprises in development contexts. The first paper, "Engaged Design: Understanding Context to Maximize Impact" by Dr. James Fathers, draws on extensive practical experience in South India. This paper will explore the importance of understanding the impact and limitations of the designer’s role as intervener and the context in which they aim to operate. It has long been suggested that design can play a significant role in identifying solutions to many of the world's issues and problems. However, I would contend that 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 coming to term with the real issues. The challenge before us I would suggest, is to train a generation of self-aware designers who grasp the impact and sustainability 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. Patty Johnson's paper "On the Edge: Design Practice and Problem Solving in Local Contexts" states that historically in the “west,” design education has trained practitioners to operate autocratically as key decision makers in the development of products in very much a “top-down” process. The limitations of this approach is clear, especially in relation to craft-skilled communities, craft practice, and historical and social structures. At the same time, the impact of a changing global design culture on micro-manufacturers demarcates a contemporary frontier of design practise that can challenge the common exclusion of things on the edge and help to redress the sometimes lopsided free flows of globalization. Based on the author’s design development and education projects with micro and small enterprises in Haiti and the Caribbean region, this paper will present two case studies that demonstrate ways of situating local commentaries within wider negotiations of meaning, agency and commerce. The colloquium's third paper, "Crafting Economic Opportunity: Piloting Design Education in a Developing World Context" by Ann-Marie Conrado, discusses the ability of companies in developing countries to innovate and provide distinct value to consumers through products and services meeting their needs is often a major factor limiting economic development. In the country context of Nepal, there are no educational institutions providing product design education. With no prior educational or industry imperative to cultivate product design as a vital component of economic growth, the education sector has not responded. This paper presents a pilot educational initiative funded by the US State Department to introduce a product design curriculum focused on developing design resources for handicraft and small cottage industries. The results attest to the value of product development pedagogy and the role it plays in economic revitalization not only in the craft sector, but across the wider spectrum. "The Ingenuity Exchange: Learning in Both Directions" will be presented by Jonathan Mills. Drawing on examples from the USA and East Africa, this paper examines the overlap between the creative problem solving approaches of trained, process-oriented designers and local, vernacular craftspeople within developing contexts. This examination highlights that the most successful interventions are respectful of both approaches with the exchange of knowledge running in both directions, while emphasizing the necessity of this understanding during a designer’s educational career. Lastly, apaper by Simon Fraser and Dr. Elizabeth Wright, "1000 Years, 1 Week: Deep Roots and Design Innovation" will be presented by Simon Fraser. Working with Master craft communities brings into relief the disparities of information, contextual knowledge and design cultures that skilled craftsmen negotiate daily, in an increasingly globalised world with complex routes to market. In response to political, economic, and environmental disasters the silver-smiths in Kotagede, Java, identified the value of design innovation to their community. Acknowledging the 1000 yrs of intangible knowledge held by the master craftsmen, the Air Asia Foundation supported by the British Council commissioned a design innovation practice workshop. The paper examines some of the issues surrounding innovation, production, the ability to negotiate change and considers how design research processes might enhance community development.

Keywords: Design, Development, Education

The International Journal of Design in Society, Volume 11, Issue 2, pp.23-29. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 766.069KB).

Dr. James. W.R Fathers

Director, School of Design, Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York, USA

James Fathers is Director of the School of Design at Syracuse University.