The Leveraged Freedom Chair, a wheelchair optimized for rural terrain. All images courtesy Icsid.
As the field of design for social impact grows, so does the discourse around it. Here at Core77, we recognize Social Impact as its own category in our own Design awards [Ed. Note: Which are now open for entries], and sites like Change Observer and the Design Altruism Project regularly highlight design and its role in social change. The World Design Impact Prize, started last year by the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design (Icsid), is one such prize, a new development in recognizing and rewarding innovations in the field.
"The goal of the World Design Impact Prize is to recognise and elevate industrial design driven solutions to societal challenges," noted Icsid Project Development Officer Mariam Masud. "By sharing these solutions, and the challenges they address the prize hopes to raise awareness of perhaps unknown obstacles and encourage a global exchange of ideas."
Food design for social change: a repurposing of the popular Indian snack called a "laddoo", with rich nutrients to fight malnutrition.
The shortlist of projects met the standards of basic selection criteria that extend past basic questions of design aesthetics and functionality that an industrial design competition might be focused on. Rather, jurors are asked to consider questions around Impact, Innovation, Context and Ease of Use. "Are there elements of the project (best practices) that can be universally shared?" "How well does the project compliment or build on the existing infrastructure (physical, political, cultural etc.)?" "Is the project easy to maintain and are replacement parts easily available?"Out of 26 projects, the jury selected seven projects after a rigorous series of votes and meetings (the original plan was to select six, but according to Masud, the jury pushed for one more to be recognized). There's the ABC Syringe, which changes color if it has already been used; the BioLite HomeStove, which generates electricity through fire (not to mention fire for cooking and warmth); Family by Family, a mentorship program for families; the Leveraged Freedom Chair, a wheel chair designed for rural usage; the Refugee Housing Unit, a longer-lasting home for displaced persons; the Laddoo Project, a simple snack packed with important nutrients; and the Potty Project, which retrofits toilets and sanitation in homes. Each of the projects includes extensive information and documentation reflecting the level of thought and research behind them.
The Lifesaver Syringe and its changing colors.
The jury included designers and design educators like Dr. Mark Breitenberg from Art Center, Zahra Ebrahim from ArchiTEXT, and Dr. Sultan Kaygin Sel from Vestel Electronics, but, importantly, it included tech ethnographer Tricia Wang. Roberto Cuervo Pulido, an industrial designer and Ph.D candidate from Colombia, had this to say about the selection process:
The selected projects are great examples of design for social goods because design is about collective intelligence, social innovation, networking and all forms of collective knowledge production and all of these projects are based on the fundamental principles of todays vision of industrial design, not only traditional product development, but the concern for society as a major concern for design disciplines.
Setting up a meaningful award series for social design efforts can be a challenge—so many of these projects operate in developing world and low-income spaces, which may not necessarily be familiar to the design community at large. It's easy for objects with high aesthetic value and documentation to be recognized over systems and practices that have a more meaningful impact. Likewise, traditional notions of design might be privileged over the kinds of systemic change that addresses the underlying conditions that lead to social inequality. Savior mentalities can run rampant.
"Social design should be framed and judged based on functionality or how it affects the norms of a society," said Masud, and she pointed to ongoing efforts to strengthen the selection process, explaining that "the Prize is only in its second iteration too so there is much work to be done to develop that idea further." That the selection process already includes ethnographers in the mix is an encouraging sign. And the extensive project documentation, while a little difficult to sort through, is a step in the right direction.
Voting has begun amongst Icsid membership organizations. We'll be back to talk about and interview some of the winners.