05 How design as an attitude can be an agent for change

By Sarah Holland, PR Senior Account Executive

When you think of design, the first thought probably isn’t of a giant floating structure in the Great Pacific, created to reduce plastic pollution in the ocean. The Ocean-Clean Up project, started by a Dutch non-profit, launched last September off the coast of San Francisco. The technology is the first of its kind and it’s expected to raise as much as $30M through crowdfunding, even though start-up capital through traditional avenues would have been basically impossible. If the project works, it could be a game changer for how designers can use digital platforms to create social and environmental change.

This epic ecological project is just one of the examples that Alice Rawsthorn OBE talked about on Tuesday at an event at the YCN in Shoreditch to celebrate her book, Design as an Attitude. The book has been inspired by Rawsthorn’s design hero: Hungarian artist and former Bauhaus teacher László Moholy-Nagy, who wrote in Vision in Motion that “Designing is not a profession, but an attitude”. Rawsthorn is passionate about design as a powerful force for change in a time of crisis, and listening to the design critic and former Design Museum Director discuss the powers of the subject was a great way to spend a drizzly January evening.

Sure, design is a styling device and creative tool, but with the help of new technologies it’s also being used as a powerful force in areas that have been historically lacking in design innovation. These can be perceived as less ‘glamorous’ avenues of design, Rawsthorn says, such as dysfunctional social services. Red Setter works with design agencies across all sorts of disciplines, but it was interesting to learn about areas of innovation and projects we hadn’t heard about, and to hear the concept of what design is challenged and discussed. Another impressive example was Peek Retina, a portable ophthalmoscope accessed through a smartphone that can diagnose eye conditions for those who can’t get to a clinic.

A Q&A discussed followed. What are the right attitudes to have as a designer, then? (curiosity, generosity, imagination) What are examples of bad design? (the infamous Google Glass, Rawsthorn says – her columns about bad design in the New York Times were always the most popular).

The event was thought-provoking and if there was something to take away from the evening, it’s that although we may be in turbulent times, there’s never been such a dynamic and exciting time to be a designer.

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