Emily Pilloton of Project H was one of the speakers at this year's Autodesk University Keynote, and she delivered a fantastic speech that boldly touched on something we rarely hear designers speak on: Failure, and what we can salvage from that.
I founded Project H Design to take on projects that had social value. Our first project was the Hippo Roller redesign. The Hippo Roller was a device used and manufactured in South Africa to transport water efficiently. We took it on as a partnership with the company, Hippo Roller, to increase the shipping efficiency and lower the pricepoint.
This project was a massive failure on our part. We were sitting in San Francisco, designing for South Africa. We were disconnected from the user, from the manufacturing, from the context and the economics. And ultimately the redesigned version did not get made.
So it was a big failure, but in a way it was a success because we were able to pinpoint what not to do. And to write our future from there, [devising a set of principles, including] "Design with, not for." We don't want to just design for clients, we want to design with people and have a shared stake in the process with them. [Also] to start locally and scale globally so we will only take on projects in our own backyard that we understand and are invested in.
Pilloton then described Studio H, the new, and frankly ballsy, project that she and partner Matthew Miller have embarked on: Using design to teach kids, in a very hands-on way, a sort of shop class, in a failing school district in rural Bertie, North Carolina.
We realized really quickly that design for education only goes so far. And that to really bring design impact to public education, we felt like we needed to teach. And that there was something very unique that design could offer as an instructional framework; so we became high school teachers.
...Looking back to the Hippo Roller and where we started, I think the differences are pretty clear. For me design is not just about a product; it should be about a process. And not just about production and consumption but about education. And this is where design has real power. Where we're able to build creative capital in places where it did not exist before--outside of the design world, by the hands of underestimated individuals.
...For me, design doesn't get much better than this.