Believe You Can Fly

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March 6, 2009

I had the opportunity to spend some face time recently in New York with Cynthia E. Smith and Matilda McQuaid who are part of the curatorial team behind the upcoming Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum Triennial scheduled for spring 2010 (check out their blog to submit ideas.) The Triennial will be focusing heavily on this conversation about design for social impact by answering the question Why design now? Why is design an essential tool for solving some of today’s most urgent problems?

In addition to the thrill of discovering our own L.A. Earthquake Sourcebook on the shelves of the museum’s bookstore (see top image), it was terrific to discuss with Cynthia and Matilda some of the Designmatters student-led work that has been emerging from our TDS projects and partnerships in the past three years. And it is with great anticipation that I am looking forward to finding out what project(s) may end up in this major showcase. It has only been three years since Designmatters came into the museum’s radar in the now classic “Design for the Other 90%” exhibit and catalogue (also driven by Cynthia), and it seems that we have come such a long way since, both here at Art Center, but also as a larger design community in the swell of interest and activity that is redefining what socially responsible design can do.

A highlight of my trip was spending time with the amazing Allan Chochinov (of Core77 fame) and his wonderful group of ID graduate students at Pratt. They had solid questions for me about some of the challenges and rewards behind the Designmatters projects. One of them, Robbie Patrick, wrote to me after my lecture to say how much he believed the program is indicative of the type of confident untainted dreaming that has to be brought back into the [design] process once one has learned the ‘ways of the industry.’ I would push this one step further and say that in these days of economic downturn and overall uncertainty, starting with a confident outlook and a healthy dose of dreaming of what you can do to make a difference through your design is a must. I am reminded of the Peter Pan phenomenon that social entrepreneurs are associated with – if you believe you can fly, you will fly.