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Featured Non-Profit

Craftmark-Handmade in India

Craftmark-Handmade in India

Poverty, Arts & Culture, Aid

Craftmark denotes authentic Indian handicrafts and helps artisans to access markets

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Featured Member

Martin Mendelsberg

Martin Mendelsberg

Denver, United States

Designer (Graphic Design)

It's all about design. "No, it's all about everything else.".

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Our commitment to improving life through social design has been with us since the beginning. This is who we are and why we’re here.

  • Activist Design



    By Jennifer Leonard

    I recently spoke about “sustaining change” at a multidisciplinary two-weekend event called The Creators Series, curated by the former RES Fest crew (now under the moniker Tomorrow Unlimited). It took place first in New York, and second in Los Angeles. In both cities I had the opportunity to experience first-hand and get inspired by a number of scintillating projects the world over – related to laser tagging, clean tagging, social networking, and participatory filmmaking.

    When it was my turn at the mic, I was asked among other things about the nuances of social design and how it figured into a vision for our sustainable future. One question, in particular, stuck with me long after the panel ended. It went a little something like this: If the sort of design you speak of represents people and projects who are instigating (and helping to sustain) positive change in the world, then why don’t you just call this strand of design “activism”?

    The question came from a performance artist who regularly dreams up projects as a way to bestow gifts upon unsuspecting others. He had clearly given careful thought to his own art practice in relation to activism, and took this opportunity to tease it out into the space of design.

    The question’s a good one. I liked where it pushed me. Why indeed is this form of “design” still called, simply, design? Why aren’t we calling it design activism… or activist design?

    Let’s start with what I suppose to be t...

  • Participaction



    By Jennifer Leonard

    Growing up in Canada in the '80s – between episodes of Mork & Mindy and Welcome Back, Kotter – I was exposed to an entertaining mix of public service announcements as a result of a government initiative called ParticipACTION. It was about creatively battling exorbitant health care costs through mobilizing citizens to “keep fit and have fun!” and not “just think about it, do it!”

    I’d often get great pleasure out of seeing a well-clad (actor) couple in matching track suits and terry headbands who would demonstrate cool moves to get the heart pumping and the muscles limber. Other times, they would appear in a kitchen (still as sporty as ever) instructing viewers on how to whip up low-cal, low-fat recipes for a family of four. The TV campaign was completely cheesy but, upon reflection, I now see seeds of greatness somewhere amid their jumping jacks and Chicken à la King.

    “Participaction” is a fabulous concept! For me, today, it invokes active community-wide engagement in an effort to serve the greater good. I’d love to resurrect participactionary thinking in the realm of social design. How can we pull together, across disciplines, from near and far, to collaboratively take positive action? How can we put design memes out into the world that spur community-building around something larger than self?

    Although likely not called “participactionary” till now, I can think of at least two shining examples from South America – from two of ...

  • Img_8029_177_

    We're pleased to have design researcher and writer Jennifer Leonard as DESIGN 21's resident blogger.

    I’m thrilled to get a slice of cyberspace every week to riff on the blooming notion of “design for social innovation.” It was a synergistic moment in Japan, several months ago when my keynote at the IdcN (International Design Center Nagoya) on this very topic sparked an “A-ha” moment in the minds (in attendance) behind DESIGN 21. They approached me, I accepted, and the music began. Tra la la.

    That fortuitous day, I spoke about my learning curve while researching and writing Massive Change, a book about the future of global design, and how my conversations with thought leaders across disciplines helped shape my unique point of view on design. By way of live-to-air dialogue for over one year with individuals who do not refer to themselves as “designers” (even though they apply their expertise to global problems, such as water shortage, mass transit, shelter, and disease), I came to see design as a global endeavor, born of intentions, grown by actions, and shared by one and all.

    Somehow, some way, I began to seek out problems that were being attacked at the root, whose goals were not surface detail or shape or physical structure but something more along the lines of systemic change. Design – a glorious process and practice that often yields equally glorious products – began to take on the mixed consistency of fluid water, blue sky and rich soil. I soon realized I...

  • D21_fin_2__177_

    The DESIGN 21 blog is a space where words build ideas and sentences call for change. So when you’re here, try thinking this:

    Writing is an act of design.

    Not just an element of design, not just part of the process, but design itself. The words in the DESIGN 21 blog build sentences that propose a shift, question models and hopefully create change. This blog sees design without borders and asks those thinkers and writers who do the same to share their ideas and experiences with us. Look for our roster of writers to include design professionals and thinkers worldwide, people who are pushing the idea of design into new disciplines, new media and new perspectives.

    For the debut of the DESIGN 21 blog, we’re thrilled to have recruited writer Jennifer Leonard, a big-thinker who is using her talents as a writer and researching to shed light not about the world of design, as she puts it, but the design of the world. Jennifer has worked for several years as a print journalist, radio broadcaster and design critic. She has co-authored the book Massive Change, a book about the future of global design, and is a writer and researcher at IDEO. In this post, her first to the DESIGN 21 blog, she writes, “Design – a glorious process and practice that often yields equally glorious products – began to take on the mixed consistency of fluid water, blue sky and rich soil. I soon realized I was no longer navigating ‘the world of design’; I was knee-deep in an elixir called ‘design of the wor...