A modular bike design for multiple applications in Africa; a design by …XYZ featured in Design With the Other 90%: Cities
Cynthia Smith, the curator for the Socially Responsible Design at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York visited CCS today.
She hopes that the exhibit can become a platform for dialogue on design for the other 90% of the world’s population.
I think it’s successful in that aspect and it’s a great site for designers and activists to look at for inspiration and as a template to understand the effects of design in different contexts (population, location, economic situations, climate change, etc).
On the other hand, I wished that these projects had also been put into context of their effects in a broader sense. Themes of global climate change causing migration and the creation of slums because of the failures of a local, national, and global government/community to recognize it’s poor population were almost always the root causes. These problems in and of themselves were rarely addressed. I felt that most of the solutions were simply band aids to fix a larger structural problem. The problem with that sort of creation is that is satisfies both parties—designer and consumer—without actually solving the root problem. Solutions were in some cases very obviously limited to specific times; there were specific contracts for public land use for only 90 years or only X amount of years.
Those solutions only make people believe that progress is happening, distracting from the real root causes and thus propagating the problem for the next generations to come. When Cynthia stated that they viewed the growing population as not 3 billion problems, but 3 billion solutions, it seemed as though the creation of problems was a good thing by creating opportunities to sustain the jobs of designers. I don’t think she intended it to mean that, but regardless, it did. It reveals the underlying assumptions about our structure and process, the way we do things, and our motives behind design in a capitalist society.
In some ways I am criticizing the exhibit; those with experience and knowledge have the responsibility use it to educate those of us that don’t. On the other hand, I recognize that as a museum, they have a certain role to play and only so much power over what they can do and say to sustain their role. Maybe that itself is a reflection on the structural problems of the 10% that won’t let us truly make change for ourselves and the other 90%.
I am in no way trying to offend anyone or tear down their work; I am just being critical of it as a student who respects this sort of work and wants to be involved in this community. I am simply as a loss as to what I should and can do, so this is more to open up dialogue on the subject.