By John Cary
On a bright, sunny day in 2011, I bellied up to the rickety old kitchen table in my Brooklyn apartment, where I nervously launched a website, called PublicInterestDesign.org. It was the website that I was unable to find, despite searching far and wide–initially a hub for the otherwise disparate coverage of a growing body of work at the intersection of design and social justice. It started with many more questions than answers, the majority of which persist to this day.
That humble website, with its tribe-like following, came to be rebranded as the Impact Design Hub, the mouthpiece of a multi-billion dollar corporation that I entrusted with its contents. But it was always much more than those two extremes, and the projects, people, and methods profiled over the last five years are clear evidence of that.
For innumerable people, this hub became an unmatched platform for exposure and a venue to further critical conversations. Like many pioneering ventures, the website and its various initiatives–infographics, a first-of-its-kind database, and even real-time events–were at turns scrappy, fueled by well-resourced partners, and ever-evolving. Its future was bright.
Fast forward six years, and we are on the brink of a new frontier. Once useful terms like “public interest design” and “social impact design” have given way to a reclaiming of design without any qualifiers. This manifests in mainstream coverage of design for good, from the pages of The New York Times to the halls of institutions like the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, which conferred its highest honor on MASS Design Group just last month.
Still, the questions left unanswered by the past six years keep me and many others up at night and get us out of the bed each morning: How do we raise all people’s expectations that they too deserve good design? How do we best finance and sustainably fund this work? How do we build a robust and diverse pipeline for the next generation of designers to dedicate their careers to the public good?
There remains a vacuum of leadership from foundations committed to truly scaling this work over the long haul, from schools willing to put a stake in the ground and demand everything they do be for the public good, and for many more public-minded practices like D-Rev, IDEO.org, and MASS Design Group. Those gaps, however, are opportunities.
The legendary Jonas Salk once said, “The reward for work well done is the opportunity for more work.”
Let’s get to it.