Can designer's help make a better world?

We recently attended the Designing a Better World Symposium at Northumbria University in Newcastle. There were all the usual discussions about how designer's can contribute to social change and to solving the environmental challenges we currently face.

There was also lots of talk of the value of collaboration and how designers will need to work outside their specialist area to tackle these multiple challenges. Jason Bruges and Julia Lohmann, both designers who work across disciplines, talked of the value of collaboration but also made the point that design education does not currently prepare students to work in this way.

Jason describe this kind of designer as a 'hybrid', able to remain a specialist while also remaining open and gathering expertise and knowledge from other areas. He also made the point that, even if we do start to train students in this way, and to consider new ways to approach their role as designers, the jobs dont exist for them. We are training people for the unknown!

This relates to Becky Earley's presentation at our Agendas debate last Friday, about our approach to embedding sustainable design thinking into courses. Here at Chelsea, we teach students new ways to be a textile designer, adding activism and lifecycle thinking under their belts, but then they get out into the real world and are met with a 'ceiling' - there are not enough jobs that exist which can take advantage of this new sort of design activity.

An another note, the highlight from the Northumbria Symposium was Josephine Green's Keynote speech . Green works in what she calls 'social foresight' and has worked at Philips Design for fifteen years. Can designers help make a better world ? She believes, yes if there is a deep purpose behind what design does, and that it is 'sense making'. But no, if we continue with the current industrial production model, and don't move beyond just designing products.

Image: Julia Lohmann