Art Works Blog

Design for a Better Tomorrow: World Design Impact Prize

This month we kick off Learning From Abroad, a webinar series focusing on international design issues. The first webinar will take place Wednesday, March 19 at 1:00 pm ET, and will focus on the finalists of the 2013-2014 World Design Impact Prize. The following is a guest post on the prize from Mariam Masud, a project development officer for the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design, which sponsors the biennial award.
Ever since my ninth grade biology teacher asked a class full of eager students to think about how papayas make meat tenderer, it sparked a passion within me for two things. The first is cooking and trying to achieve that perfect piece of tender steak; and the second is the overall phenomenon of catalysts and their ability to initiate or accelerate processes.
Catalysts can exist on a small scale but they can also exist on a large scale. They can originate unintentionally as with the papaya and the meat or intentionally as with central banks when they adjust interest rates in order to stimulate the economy. There are also societal catalysts, which can be processes, systems, or even just artifacts. Catalysts can be small acts that create immense change. Just think about the impact of a female door-to-door worker in a large scale polio drive or the mere act of parental involvement, which encourages student engagement in schools
As I thought about these catalysts many years later, I often wondered what the catalyst could be in trying to solve a number of complex issues. One thing I have learned is that there exists a plethora of tools in the designers’ toolbox to find solutions for complex issues and that could serve as catalysing agents. It is this ability to find simple solutions to complex issues that makes the design process impactful and it is exactly this evidence of innovation and impact that the World Design Impact Prize seeks out. By identifying the catalysts which solve global challenges and by providing a platform to share best practices and diverse ways of approaching the same challenge, the World Design Impact Prize can build bridges between issues and solutions. 
Design not only builds bridges between issues and solutions, it also builds bridges between technology and people by creating large systems and processes or small artifacts in the shape of products, which address real human needs. Although the core needs are universal, context, resources, and cultural relevance are not and this means that not every solution can be applied universally.  
This can be a very positive realization as there are learnings from each solution that can be helpful to similar projects elsewhere. By providing a global platform for dialogue and exchange, where the common language is design, the World Design Impact Prize hopes to highlight how design is a powerful tool and also how there are diverse ways to address the same challenge globally.

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