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  • What is social impact design?

    A simple definition of social impact design is “design that seeks to solve humanitarian issues such as improving living conditions for its beneficiaries.”

    But this both answers the question and raises more: Isn’t all design social? Should social design be humanitarian-focused, politically charged or both? What is the role of community “service” or the meaning of “collaborative”? Will “Designers with a capital D” swoop in to the developing world with well-meaning but externally imposed “solutions?” Should ideas be directly replicable on a mass scale? (After all, aren’t there billions of people living in poverty?)

    Questions are important. Discussion is important. At the Curry Stone Foundation, we ask many questions. And we engage with leaders in the field via our Social Design Insight podcast.

    Most of all, we support people who are using design to improve lives and promote human vitality. We showcase their work to inspire designers, activists, community leaders and anyone else looking to address social problems, especially in places where design has been traditionally unavailable or inaccessible.

  • Why does our mission emphasize community driven social impact design?

    Since our founding in 2007, we have been privileged to learn from some of the most interesting, pioneering, provocative, groundbreaking and inspiring people in social impact design. We also created our own practice, the Curry Stone Design Foundation.

    Across continents, countries, communities and neighborhoods, the common thread uniting our winners, honorees, grant recipients and practice is a deeply collaborative, community driven approach.

    “Community driven,” is an immersive process that engages and empowers all stakeholders. The community knows its own needs best. The designer’s role is to empower and share tools needed for the community to meet their own needs.

    This might be urban dwellers collectively transforming derelict neighborhood spaces into self-sustaining gardens (Atelier d’Architecture Autogérée) or doctors in Rwanda or Haiti in need of hospitals that can withstand specific, local challenges such as dust storms (TAM/Emergency) or lack of access to potable water (MASS Design Group). It can be a consortium of Mumbai slum dwellers determined to improve their own surroundings (SPARC). Or Palestinian women in war-torn Nablus with a culinary academy that enables them to earn a living and simultaneously promote peace through cultural dialog and exchange (Bait al Karama).

  • Is design just for products and buildings?

    We define “design” broadly and inclusively. Yes, it can be about intentional development of the built environment—public and private spaces where people live, work and interact. Or about innovations that improve the things people use every day.

    But design is also a way of thinking. Someone once said that designers mentally “surround” a problem, exploring it from all angles, rather than just head on. Design can be an approach to problem solving that integrates the identification of true needs with the patient exploration of solutions, understanding that the best response may not be the most obvious.

    This broad definition of design is why the Curry Stone Foundation’s network of prize winners and honorees ranges from Indian architects involved in tapping artisanal techniques for resilient building to a Congolese dance studio to American artists who plant fruit trees for all to share.

  • How do you measure the results of social impact design?

    To be perfectly honest, we have a love-hate relationship with quantifiable success metrics.

    Determining whether a project is successful and effective requires a broad, patient approach. Numbers have their place, but so do intangibles like increased civic pride, individual flourishing and a sense of belonging.

    For example, if a school is built but few children show up for class, then the reasons need to be investigated. Yet a rural community may discover increased vitality just from having a school after decades of no educational opportunities at all. How is that measured?

    Sandhya Naidu Janardhan, Managing Director of the Curry Stone Design Collaborative, speaks of “patient development,” related to the idea of “patient capital” in the social impact investing sphere where investors prioritize the long term, social benefit of their investment over low risk or quick financial returns . In social design, the process of getting to know, and collaborating with, the community needs to take its own time. Once the project is realized, the full spectrum of benefits may not be apparent for months or even years. This slower road to so-called measurable results may differ to commercial development or even mainstream NGO and foundation philanthropy, but to us it feels appropriate and correct.

  • The big picture: isn't all design social?

    Good design improves the human environment. We believe design tools should be readily available, irrespective of geography or economic class. Some of our winners and honorees focus exclusively on small scale, impact driven interventions. Others engage in both social-impact and what might be called “traditional” design. In all cases, positive impact on the community is key to the design process.

    Our hope is that all designers will consider the human impact of their work —especially on the underserved. Does the design represent the wishes of the entire community? Is it a catalyst to coalesce a neighborhood or will it promote a ripple effect of alienation due to inequality? Are there established pro-social standards, for example LEED (that standardizes evaluation of the environmental performance of a building) that can be applied?

  • How can I become a social impact designer, or bring design to my community?

    Start right here! Search issues and ideas of interest to you. Discover global practices involved in similar work. Watch short films on our Design Prize winners. Subscribe to our podcast, Social Design Insights. Visit the Curry Stone Design Collaborative page and read how we are developing our own community-driven practice from the ground up.