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Essays


06.20.14: John Thackara

When Tech In Care Is Evil
I spent the last two weeks in-and-around a care home in England that looks after people with dementia and terminal illness, and their families – including, this time, mine.
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05.13.14: John Thackara

Food As A Commons
People go hungry not because of a shortage of production, but because the food available is too expensive, or they lack the land to grow it on. In California, the prototype of a combined social, political and technical solution has been launched which promises to unlock the food system crisis.
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05.07.14: John Thackara

Presence and Encounter — How We Meet Is As Important As Why
I’m not suggesting that we abandon social media — just that we cultivate a hybrid approach so whenever someone says “online” someone else says, “and what about offline?”. Or when we find ourselves inside, someone else says: “and when do we go outside?”
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04.02.14: John Thackara

Keep Your Stuff Alive
What would fashion be like if it was more than a an act of consumption with no meaning beyond the point of sale? What kind of system would improve the quality of our fashion experience without increasing the quantity we consume?
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04.01.14: Paul Polak

An Open Letter to Larry Page
Paul Polack responds to Larry Page's statemet that he'd rather hand over his cash to Elon Musk (Tesla, SpaceX, Solar City) instead of donating it to a philanthropic organization.
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03.25.14: John Thackara

Cloud Commuting
A two-year project in Belgium proposes new relationships between people, goods, energy, equipment, spaces, and value. Its design objective: a networked mobility ecosystem.
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03.18.14: John Thackara

A ‘Wild Mirror’ For Desk-Bound Workers
A new scheme in England connects office workers with living systems by means of a ‘wild mirror’: each workspace is twinned with an equivalent area of ecosystem regeneration.
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03.11.14: John Thackara

Summer Xskool in Sweden
This year’s Doors of Perception Summer Xskool explores what it can mean in practice to move from a ‘do less harm’ approach to sustainability to a practice of leave things better.
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03.03.14: John Thackara

Energy: Thriving On Five Percent?
Energy requirements per person in modern times are 60 times higher than our ancestors. How do we sustain that need as populations also increase?
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02.14.14: John Thackara

Caloryville: The Two-Wheeled City
In China, ‘battery-bikes’ are outselling cars by four-to-one. Pedelec sales are soaring in Europe, too. Is this the start of system-wide phase-shift in transportation?
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01.22.14: John Thackara

Conflict and Design
A review of the design triennial in Belgium on the theme of Conflict and Design.
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01.13.14: John Thackara

Shoe City vs Sole Rebels
Two radically opposed models of development are being born in Ethiopia at the same time. One is small, local, socially fair, and ecologically respectful. The other takes the globalisation of fashion to a new and more destructive level.
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01.06.14: John Thackara

A Whole New Cloth: Politics and the Fashion System
In fashion, despite more than 400 eco labels, an incremental ‘do less harm’ approach has addressed the symptoms, but not the principal cause, of our difficulties: an economy based on perpetual growth in a finite world.
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12.27.13: The Editors

Most Popular Change Observer Posts of 2013
Reader's favorite posts on design and social change in 2013.
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12.19.13: John Thackara

The Dementia Care Economy
A proposition for the economy of ‘disease-modifying therapy’ for dementia.
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12.19.13: Liz Gerber

The Trifecta of Feedback
The value of feedback and a proposal for the best ways to receive it.
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12.12.13: John Thackara

Dementia: Care Before Cure
The downside of declaring war on a disease like dementia is to diminish social solidarity. But there are solutions.
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11.28.13: John Thackara

Desert of the Real
Three perplexing, related issues: The notion that we are living in a ‘desert of the real’; What the desert of the real has meant for environmental communications; Alternative ways of knowing and being in the world and what these might mean for design.
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11.22.13: Paul Polak

End Poverty or Bust
Five years ago, Steve Bachar and Paul Polak decided to create a venture capital fund that would only invest in socially responsible companies. There was only one problem. There were no companies to invest in that met the criteria
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11.12.13: Paul Polak and Mal Warwick

How to Solve India’s Poverty Crisis
A new look at how to end poverty in India.
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10.25.13: John Thackara

Designing In A Complex World: Two Talks In Mexico City
Two upcoming talks from John Thackara in Mexico City.
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10.07.13: Andrew Shea

Shaping Design Education at LEAP Symposium
A review by Andrew Shea of the recent, September 19-24, 2013, LEAP symposium at Art Center College of Design.
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09.16.13: Cheryl Heller

Forget Poverty. Let’s Talk Business.
In a recent article on the future of design, I used Paul Polak as a case for why generalists are so important to the world right now.
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09.13.13: John Thackara

Ways of Knowing
John Thackara's contrubution to the book Gallery of the Senses, that explores the ways we expereince the contemporary world through sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch.
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09.06.13: Paul Polak

Achieving Scale
Scale is the single biggest unmet challenge in development and impact investment today.
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09.06.13: John Thackara

Speed? What Speed? Prisoners of Speed, by Ivan Illich
Ivan Illich on being prisoners of the idea of speed.
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09.06.13: John Thackara

Speed? What Speed? The Belly-Dance Drummer, by Matthias Rieger
Matthias Rieger with some remarks about speed from a belly-dance drummer’s point of view.
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09.05.13: John Thackara

Speed? What Speed? The Falcon, by Sebastian Trapp
Field biologist Sebastian Trapp on Frederic the Second's book, On the Art of Hunting with Birds.
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09.03.13: John Thackara

Flyways
A meditation on the migratory patterns of birds and sheep.
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08.26.13: John Thackara

Connecting With The Other
A review of Empreintes, by Céline Boyer
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08.22.13: John Thackara

Between Sorrel And Supertanker
John Thackara reviews the recent Doors of Perception xskool.
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07.16.13: Manisha Sharma

Gendered Arrangements: India
Girls are considered a burden in Indian society, the issue is popularly known as the “missing girls” phenomenon.
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07.04.13: John Thackara

Xskool, Sweden, August
Overview of a Doors of Perception xskool that takes place in August as part of the FuturePerfect Festival in Sweden.
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07.01.13: Wanda Orlikowski

Jazz-Inspired Leadership
Organizations most responsive to change are often the ones that replace the orchestral model with a new one — the jazz combo.
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06.25.13: John Thackara

Green Tourism: Why It Failed And How It Can Succeed
At a conference with 300 travel industry professionals, John Thackara ponders the successes, failures and potential in the Green Tourism industry.
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06.07.13: John Thackara

Trust Is Not An Algorithm
By some accounts the world’s information is doubling every two years. This impressive if unprovable fact has got many people wondering: what to do with it?
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05.21.13: John Thackara

Cycle Commerce As An Ecosystem
John Thackara reviews new products, services and ingredients needed to help a cycle commerce ecosystem flourish in India’s cities, towns and villages.
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05.10.13: Center for an Urban Future

8 Ways to Grow New York’s Design Sector
New York City is home to more designers than any other U.S, city and a top location in the world for cutting-edge design. NYCxDESIGN — the city’s first citywide design festival, launching this week —builds on much of that activity to increase awareness about what design is and what it can do. But there is more the city can do to solidify New York’s claim as a capital of design.
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05.01.13: Soren Kaplan

Harnessing the Power of Surprise
Breakthroughs share three common characteristics: they challenge fundamental assumptions about existing products, services, business models, or organizations; they transform existing ways of doing business by rewriting rules or revolutionizing current practices; and they apply resources in entirely new ways, whether people, knowledge, relationships, or technology.
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04.26.13: John Thackara

A Roof, A Skill, A Market
The Nubian Vault Association has evolved a unique approach to housing in West Africa that creates three kinds of value within local economies: a roof, a skill and a market.
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03.20.13: John Thackara

The Ecozoic City
How humans are reintegrating their endeavours into a larger ecological consciousness.
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03.13.13: John Thackara

Artefact as Campfire: Where People and Living Systems Meet
Overview of the August Doors of Perception workshop at the FuturePerfect Festival in Sweden.
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02.06.13: Ezio Manzini

Small, Local, Open and Connected: Resilient Systems and Sustainable Qualities
How do we design a resilient socio-technical system? Let’s look to natural systems; their tolerance of breakdowns and their adaptation capacity (that is, their capability of sustaining over time) may give us direction.
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02.06.13: Arvind Gupta

Adaptive Innovation: Create, Learn, Repeat
A New Organizational Approach to Change: "Adaptive Innovation: Create, Learn, Repeat."
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01.09.13: David Stairs

Journeying through the Sacred Profane
David Stairs chronicles his trip through India.
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09.11.12: Scott Boylston

Designing Design into Society
A report on the Design Ethos 2012 DO-ference.
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05.17.12: Paul Polak

Simplicity Brings Hope to the Digital Age
Simplicity Brings Hope to the Digital Age, by Paul Polak.
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05.01.12: Andrew Shea

Flies in Urinals: The Value of Design Disruptions
How a disruption in routine (potentially by design) can alter the environment.
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03.20.12: William Drenttel

Designing for Social Change
Designing for Social Change is a toolkit of strategies, case studies, and stories, offering new opportunities for approaching social design in our communities.
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11.18.11: Paul Polak

Is it Immoral to Earn Attractive Profits from Poor Customers?
Is It Immoral To Earn Attractive Profits From Poor Customers?, by Paul Polak
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11.14.11: Laura Weiss

Better Service Through Consultmanship
On a neglected area of design education
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10.28.11: Paul Polak

Building a Better Mousetrap is Only the Beginning
Building A Better Mousetrap Is Only The Beginning, by Paul Polak
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10.10.11: Ramsey Ford

Expert Thinking About Global Aid
Suggestions for a crash course in development economics for social designers
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09.26.11: John Thackara

5% Health: The Risk of Catabolic Collapse and Peak Fat in Modern Health Systems
The writer, at Mayo Clinic's "Transform" conference, asks: Are high-end medical systems the best place to focus design's creative capacity?
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09.05.11: John Thackara

Iceland: Eaten Alive, or Growing to Live?
Exploding the myth of Iceland's "green" energy — with alternative suggestions
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08.30.11: Phil Patton

The Green Dashboard
The design of instrument panels reflects the new technologies of hybrid and electric vehicles
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08.23.11: An Xiao Mina

90 Years of Chinese Communism: A Multimedia Celebration
How the Chinese Communist Party designed its 90th anniversary commemorations
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08.01.11: Barbara Flanagan

The Dissing of Summer Lawns
How one Californian was forced (and inspired) to exchange sod for low-water plants.
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07.28.11: Laura Weiss

What We Can Learn from Project Runway
As 'Project Runway' launches its 9th season, a designer muses on what she's learned.
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07.22.11: John Thackara

Ten Ways to Redesign Design Competitions
How to improve design competitions aimed at social good.
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07.22.11: Paul Polak

Affordable Design Comes to Denver — “Design for the Other 90%”
Affordable Design Comes To Dender – “Design For The Other 90%” – Redline Gallery, by Kali Friedmann and Danny Growald
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07.08.11: Jac sm Kee

The Color Yellow
Malaysians supporting election reform attach new meaning to a national color, yellow.
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07.05.11: Laura Weiss

Structured for Creativity
How to scale a nonprofit organization so it is optimized for impact.
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06.30.11: John Thackara

How to Make Systems Thinking Sexy
John Thackara's 2011 Buckminster Fuller Challenge keynote address.
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06.15.11: Barbara Flanagan

Epiphany of an Ocean Swimmer
Essay on in the insights that come with immersion in the deep, cold sea.
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06.05.11: Paul Polak

The Future Corporation
The Future Corporation, by Paul Polak
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05.27.11: By Alexia

My Studio H Experience
Adventures in design crits: A high school junior recounts her Studio H year working with onerous classmates and power tools.
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04.11.11: Phil Hamlett, Gaby Brink and Nathalie Destandau

The Living Principles
Living Principles is a new framework that focuses on the sustainable efforts of our design communities.

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04.04.11: Phil Patton

On the Shoulders of Rebels
On the rocket-propelled grenade: one of the most successful designs on the planet.
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03.25.11: Laura Weiss

Why We're All Designers
Thoughts on design from Taproot Foundation's VP of Innovation.
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02.07.11: Paul Polak

The Last 500 Feet
The Last 500 Feet, by Paul Polak
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02.03.11: John Thackara

Renewable Energy: Salvation or Snake Oil?
Critique of The Energy Report published by the World Wildlife Fund, which asserts that the world's energy needs could be met by alternative sources.
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01.13.11: Julie Lasky

Bushpunk and the Future of Africa
Why Maker Faire Africa is a model for economic development
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01.12.11: John Thackara

The Gram Junkies: In Transportation Design the Key Issue Is Not Speed, but Weight
In the matter of mobility and modern transportation we all need to become gram junkies.
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01.07.11: Paul Polak

Touching the Untouchables
Touching the Untouchables, by Paul Polak
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12.02.10: John Thackara

Green Issues in Communication Design
Why do companies get environmental awards for polluting less, even though they are still polluting?
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11.23.10: Phil Patton

Keith Richards and His Amazing Portable Cassette Recorder
With the recent announcement that Sony has discontinued the Walkman, Phil Patton meditates on the powerful influence of portable music technology.
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11.08.10: John Thackara

A Tale of Two Trains
High-speed transportation systems in Norway vs. India: One step forward? Or two steps back?
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11.05.10: Paul Polak

How Much Money is Enough?
How Much Money Is Enough?, by Paul Polak
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10.22.10: Paul Polak

The Birth and Death of Big Institutions
The Birth And Death Of Big Institutions, by Paul Polak
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10.08.10: Paul Polak

Applying the Design Revolution to the Woes of Big Canals
Applying The Design Revolution To The Woes Of Big Canals, by Paul Polak
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10.06.10: Maria Popova

Malcolm Gladwell Is #Wrong
Response to Malcolm Gladwell's New Yorker magazine essay, "Small Change: Why the Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted."
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10.04.10: Phil Patton

The Meek Shall Inherit the Market
Phil Patton writes in praise of frugal engineering, and not just for developing markets.
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10.01.10: Paul Polak

How to Triple the Income of Sprinkling Can Farmers in Asia and Africa
How To Triple The Income Of Sprinkling Can Farmers In Asia And Africa, by Paul Polak
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09.29.10: John Waters

Design Ethos: A Bugle of Change
Essay endorsing a new definition of graphic design practice.
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09.17.10: Paul Polak

Death of Appropriate Technology II : How to Design for the Market
Death Of Appropriate Technology II : How To Design For The Market, by Paul Polak
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09.10.10: Paul Polak

The Death of Appropriate Technology I : If You Can’t Sell it Don’t Do it
The Death Of Appropriate Technology I : If You Can’t Sell It Don’t Do It, by Paul Polak
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08.27.10: Paul Polak

Design for the Other 90% and Wild Blueberries
Design For The Other 90% And Wild Blueberries, by Paul Polak
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08.26.10: Kate Howe

The Insignificance of a Logo (Even When Significant)
On the futility of designing the symbol for a controversial religious organization.
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08.23.10: Ramsey Ford

What Social Entrepreneurship Can Teach Social Design

Essay on adapting principles of social entrepreneurship to social design.


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08.20.10: Paul Polak

The Nawsa Mad System (Aswan Dam Backwards)
The Nawsa Mad System (Aswan Dam Backwards), by Paul Polak
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08.16.10: Ashish Nangia

The Town That Corbusier Built

On the conflict between architectural appreciation and security in Chandigarh, India.


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08.13.10: Paul Polak

Want to Scale-Up your Development Project? Make a Bollywood Movie
Want To Scale-Up Your Development Project? Make A Bollywood Movie, by Paul Polak
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08.06.10: Paul Polak

How Shopping is Experienced in Different Parts of the World
How Shopping Is Experienced In Different Parts Of The World, by Paul Polak
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08.02.10: Jen Roos

Cup of Heroes
Thoughts on design, sports, and the author's return to a South African township during the World Cup.
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08.02.10: John Thackara

Could Green Energy Kill the Desert?
Large scale wind power might not be as green as you think.
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07.29.10: Maria Popova

The Language of Design Imperialism
Essay on the flawed language used to describe humanitarian design efforts and what it indicates.
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07.29.10: Paul Polak

Why Growing Income is More Important to Food Security than Growing More Food
Why Growing Income Is More Important To Food Security Than Growing More Food, by Paul Polak
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07.23.10: Paul Polak

The Triple Bottom Line is a More Effective Tool to Evaluate Hanes Panty-Hose than Social Enterprises

The Triple Bottom Line Is A More Effective Tool To Evaluate Hanes Panty-Hose Than Social Enterprises, by Paul Polak


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07.15.10: Robert Fabricant

In Defense of Design Imperialism
Weighing in on a controversy, frog design's Robert Fabricant supports global design interventions.
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07.13.10: Paul Polak

Why Ending Poverty is Greener than Green
Why Ending Poverty Is Greener Than Green, by Paul Polak
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07.12.10: Constantin Boym

Teaching in a Time of Uncertainty
Meditation on the doubt creeping into today's design practice.
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06.17.10: Krista Donaldson

The Real Cost of Free
Do you give the poor farmer a pump if you know it will transform her crops and move her family from just scraping by into the middle class? It’s hard to say no, isn’t it? But you should.
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05.31.10: John Thackara

Whole, Whole on the Range
As a juror on the 2010 Buckminster Fuller Challenge, John Thackara reviews the highlight.
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05.26.10: John Thackara

What Should Design Critics Write About?
Address to MFA students in the School of Visual Arts' Design Criticism program, April 30, 2010.
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05.24.10: Ken Botnick and Ira Raja

The Subtle Technology of Indian Artisanship

How India's craftsmen offer lessons in design thinking.


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03.29.10: Azby Brown

Bent by the Sun
What a longtime American-born resident of Japan has learned about his adopted country's ancient practice of sustainability.
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02.22.10: Justin Kemerling

The Volunteer Design Chronicles (Lincoln, NE)
Community-focused pro-bono design activities in Lincoln, Nebraska.
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01.07.10: Karrie Jacobs

A President and His Dog, Part 2
Karrie Jacobs analyzes the Obama administration's website.
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12.04.09: Jane Withers

In Praise of Shadows
Essay adapted from "In Praise of Shadows: New European Lighting Design," presented at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, September 19–October 18, 2009.
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11.09.09: Mark Dery

Dawn of the Dead Mall
Mark Dery surveys the landscape of failing malls and speculates about the future means and venues of mass consumption.
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10.19.09: Fred Ritchin

Exposure Time
Excerpt from After Photography by Fred Ritchin on technology's potential to make the photographic image less controlling and more revealing.
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10.13.09: Andy Chen

The Value of Empathy
Andy Chen responds to the debate between David Stairs and Valerie Casey on the recent surge of social design activity.
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09.09.09: William Kamkwamba & Bryan Mealer

The Doers Club
Design prodigy William Kamkwamba recalls building a windmill to generate electricity for his village in Malawi, Africa.
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08.23.09: Michael Scharf

Rainfall Is Likely to Occur

The bourgeois quarters have their own hybrid neo-Tibeto-Hokkaido-Kashmiri-Brit architecture — tin-roof Tudors with peaks — yet "paddy" (i.e., rice) is still grown within the city limits, if in just a few spots.


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08.11.09: John Thackara

Fish Systems and Design
Though gloomy predictions say we could see the end of seafood by 2048, several initiatives are rethinking the way we acquire fish.
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07.29.09: John Thackara

From Philanthrocapitalism to An Eco-Social Economy
"Design for social impact" is a very troubling phrase.
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07.05.09: William Drenttel

Report from Hale County, Alabama
Greensboro Alabama is a city of contrasts, and a place where new design thinking is revealing itself in a surprising number of ways. An occasional report from Winterhouse Institute on its Design for Social Impact & Innovation Project.
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07.01.09: John Thackara

The Internet of Things
Should we be sprinkling technological devices across the planet like dust?
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05.27.09: John Thackara

Make Sense, Not Stuff
John Thackara presents a three-step plan to connect design schools to the green economy.
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05.08.09: John Thackara

Doctors with iPhones
The neighborhood doctor is back — and this time, he has an iPhone.
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02.26.09: John Thackara

The Innovator Next Door
Whether it's narrowly defining innovation as technology, or imposing solutions on communities, John Thackara discusses the mistakes made by large companies.
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08.04.08: John Thackara

Alternative Trade Networks and the Coffee System
Alterative trade networks are emerging in the coffee industry, attempting to eliminate the middle man.
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03.15.08: John Thackara

From MySpace to Fake Space
Traveling without moving has become an economic and environmental imperative. Matter is more expensive than energy; energy than information; it is cheaper to move information, than people or things. So what is to stop us moving less and and telecommunicating more?
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01.05.07: John Thackara

Global Place — Or is it a Hat?
We must view the world with a new slant and take advantage of a huge design opportunity to create sustainable structures for the future.
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