Is Humanitarian Design the New Imperialism? | Co.

Bruce Nussbaum writes: So where are we with humanitarian design? I know almost all of my Gen Y students want to do it because their value system is into doing good globally. Young designers in consultancies and corporations want to do humanitarian…

Bruce Nussbaum writes:

So where are we with humanitarian design? I know almost all of my Gen Y students want to do it because their value system is into doing good globally. Young designers in consultancies and corporations want to do humanitarian design for the same reason.

But should we take a moment now that the movement is gathering speed to ask whether or not American and European designers are collaborating with the right partners, learning from the best local people, and being as sensitive as they might to the colonial legacies of the countries they want to do good in. Do designers need to better see themselves through the eyes of the local professional and business classes who believe their countries are rising as the U.S. and Europe fall and wonder who, in the end, has the right answers? Might Indian, Brazilian and African designers have important design lessons to teach Western designers?

And finally, one last question: why are we only doing humanitarian design in Asia and Africa and not Native American reservations or rural areas, where standards of education, water and health match the very worst overseas?

It’s a good question. Change-making as mass movement enabled by Western hegemony and entitlement is problematic not only in the field of humanitarian design.

However, designers are perhaps better equipped than most international development professionals in shifting the lens towards the end-users and beneficiaries of innovation.

Innovators from developing countries solving first world problems, http://designforthefirstworld.com

via designforthefirstworld.com First stop – obesity in the United States. I love this design contest that flips the usual developing/developed dependency relationship on its head.

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First stop – obesity in the United States. I love this design contest that flips the usual developing/developed dependency relationship on its head.

A design ethnography tour of Malvern?

I was writing up a funding proposal to take ChangeCamp hyper-local in Toronto in 2010, when I realized I know very little about how people outside my hyper-connected core use social technology and web connected devices. I thought about Malvern, a …

I was writing up a funding proposal to take ChangeCamp hyper-local in Toronto in 2010, when I realized I know very little about how people outside my hyper-connected core use social technology and web connected devices. I thought about Malvern, a neighbourhood in northeast Scarborough. Malvern has a lot of young people, a high numbers of visible minorities and newcomers and lots of tall apartment towers separated by vast stretches of suburban sprawl and is also close to some beautiful green spaces.

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Malvern feels pretty far away from the Twittering, iPhone waving, Macbook swaddled, Dark Horse sipping, social media hive I occupy at Queen and Spadina. I know almost nothing about life in Malvern, nor do most of my downtown peers. If I were trying to engage young people and newcomers in this neighbourhood, what would be the channels I would choose? What are their social technology habits? What devices do they have? How much time do they spend online? How do they talk? What are their public spaces?

The vision for the ChangeCampTO 2010 project I have proposed is to enable ChangeCamp style events in all 44 of Toronto’s wards with a particular focus on engaging residents in Toronto’s disconnected periphery, the inner suburbs and so-called “priority neighbourhoods” that are of such concern related to issues from community economic development, education, social inclusion, gun violence and systemic poverty. This project will not be successful by simply taking a downtown, white privileged, Twitterati dominated model and exporting it. It needs to be a model that people can make their own, adapt as they need to and that reflects local flavour.

So I am proposing a small group design ethnography tour one weekend day in December. Six design-thinker types armed with digital recording devices, their eyes, curiosity and a sense of adventure pile into a van. What happens next?