5 Inspiring Social Design Pioneers

November 19, 2012

Recently I spent an evening at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design attending the awards ceremony for the Curry Stone Design Prize. Founded in 2008 by Clifford Curry and Delight Stone and curated by Chee Pearlman with Emiliano Gandolfi, the  prize is awarded to designers who are developing and implementing groundbreaking and visionary design innovation in the social sector.

The 2012 awards saw a remarkable range of work described by well-crafted movies that reveal the approaches and motivations of the designers, as well as the cleverness of the ideas themselves. I strongly encourage you to follow the links to each of the videos below. You will be rewarded with inspirational examples of what can be achieved when talented individuals and teams apply design thinking to important problems.

The 2012 Winners:

Center for Urban Pedagogy (CUP)  CUP collaborates with teachers, students, policy experts, and community advocates, along with artists and designers, to visually communicate complex urban process and policy decisions. I love the way CUP uses a range of design approaches to explain difficult to understand policies to the underserved who are often most affected by them.


Liter of Light Filipino social entrepreneur Illac Diaz developed a brilliant (pun intentional) solution to lighting for the millions worldwide who live in homes with no access to daylight. Not only is the idea innovative, so is the approach he has taken to getting the idea to scale.


Mass Design Group Founded out of the Harvard Graduate School of Design by Michael Murphy and Alan Ricks, MASS is one of my favorite examples of architects applying their skills in a way that changes lives. Butaro Hospital in Rwanda was a collaboration between MASS Design and Partners in Health (founded by Paul Farmer). The design solution is an impressive combination of functional innovation, beautiful use of form and materials, and clever approaches to construction. The end result is a hospital that performs to higher standards than many hospitals of far higher cost.


Riwaq This was for me the most inspiring winner of the evening. Riwaq is a group of architects working in Palestine to save and renovate what is left of the country’s historic buildings. This video not only shows the dedication of the team, it also gives you a window into a country and people that’s entirely different from the portrayals we conventionally see in the media.


Jeanne van Heeswijk Jeanne van Heeswijk describes herself as an artist rather than a designer, yet she uses the tools of design to build coalitions within communities to create lively and diversified public spaces. The video shows her remarkable ability to connect to a community, giving them ways to participate in designing solutions for themselves.

What other kinds of challenges might benefit from similar approaches?

Butaro Hospital image courtesy of MASS Design Group and Iwan Baan.

(posted also on my LinkedIn Thought Leader blog)