Monday, September 20, 2010

Transformational Change By Design

As vibrant and promising as the world is in 2010, the problems we face today are more serious than ever. From gushing crude oil to shaky financial markets, our tremendous progress has brought with it equally tremendous challenges.

Being a radical optimist however, I’m confident that we will continue to overcome even the most intractable problems through creativity. I often say that “ideas are the currency of the future,” and it’s true. More than anything, we are going to need fresh, groundbreaking ideas if we are to stay safe, happy and healthy for decades and centuries to come.

These are just some of the thoughts that have been coursing through my mind since I read a stimulating little book called 10 40 1 from Sappi Fine Paper. The beautifully designed volume celebrates 10 years of Sappi’s Ideas that Matter program by showcasing 40 designers who “envisioned a way to change the world through the power of design.”

Ideas That Matter is a grant program that enables designers to contribute to charitable causes they believe in. Over the past decade, the program has awarded $10 million to designers who were intent on using their gifts to further the social good. The projects included in 10 40 1 are a perfect example of the Do One Thing philosophy for changing the world that I have long subscribed to.

Just take Doug Hebert. He decided to use his skills as a designer to help make potential adoptive parents more comfortable with the idea of bringing abused children into their homes.

In collaboration with DePelchin Children’s Center, Doug and his team from Savage Design Group Inc. produced After Harm, Hope, a book that not only addresses the many misconceptions about abused children and eases the anxieties of adoptive parents, but one that also seeks to empower children from abusive households.

Another inspiring design project included in Sappi’s book is from designer Amy Wang. She took it upon herself to educate Americans about the metric system through eye-catching and informative design.

It seems like a small issue. But America happens to be one of only three countries in the world that hasn’t adopted the metric system. As the book explains, “using a measurement system other than the international standard has caused inefficiencies in education and manufacturing, and put U.S. businesses and labor at a competitive disadvantage in the global market.”

Through a number of media -- including bus shelters, painted trucks and electronic taxi billboards -- Amy has begun making Americans more fluent in the language of meters, liters and grams. One of my favorite of Amy’s ideas is a public bus that bears the message “13,600 kg, give or take 45 sleepy passengers and a few leftover morning papers.”

I highly recommend downloading a .PDF version of 10 40 1 on the Sappi website. It’s a stimulating and inspiring read.