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New exhibit explores design for the public good

Posted by: Kate Torgovnick May

Good design isn’t just about making a great-looking colander. Good design can actually improve our lives, both individually and collectively.

In the new Autodesk Gallery exhibit “Public Interest Design: Products, Places & Processes,” curators Courtney E. Martin and John Cary showcase 12 projects that were designed with the common good in mind. Of the four objects, four places and four systems on display, many are the work of TED speakers and TED Fellows. (As is the exhibit itself, in fact: Watch Martin’s TEDTalk, “Reinventing feminism.”)

Gallery-goers will find Jane Chen’s Embrace Nest, a low-cost portable incubator designed to save the lives of premature babies in the developing world, where it’s estimated that 450 preemies die every hour. Yves Béhar’s fuseproject design group is included for its initiative “See Better to Learn Better,” which helps students in Mexico design their own low-cost eyeglasses to make them more fun to wear. Jennifer Pahlka’s Code for America gets a nod in the exhibit for Adopt-a-Hydrant, a web platform that lets community members take responsibility for shoveling a nearby hydrant after it snows. And David Kelley’s IDEO is featured for its project Clean Team, a low-cost in-home toilet system that is making a difference in Ghana. The TEDx program is even featured in the exhibit, for creating a global platform for the sharing of ideas in under-resourced communities thanks to TEDx-in-a-Box.

The idea of designing for the public good is just starting to appear in our collective consciousness. As Martin and Cary write in an op-ed in The New York Times:

“It used to be that young people with humanitarian aspirations went into law or medical school or applied to Teach for America or the Peace Corps. But today, increasing numbers [have] decided to try to design their way to a more beautiful, just world. This new breed of public-interest designers proceeds from a belief that everybody deserves good design, whether in a prescription-bottle label that people can more easily read and understand, a beautiful pocket park to help a city breathe or a less stressful intake experience at the emergency room.”

The exhibit “Public Interest Design” is on display at the Autodesk Gallery in San Francisco. Below, see an infographic overview of the exhibit, for anyone who won’t be able to see it in person.

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