What I learned making the largest ever graduate design show
Designers these days are well thought of but poorly understood. Most of us assume that a designer’s job is to make things beautifully, to elevate an ordinary object so that it sparkles. This assumption isn’t unfair, but it misses something essential.
The beauty of a design is often in its idea, in the impulse that the work responds to and the effectiveness of its answer. A great design delivers both a diagnosis and a cure. It identifies an unseen opportunity or unexpressed need and suggests a solution.
For the past year, I’ve been putting together an exhibition of beautiful ideas. To find them, I’ve visited design, art, and engineering schools around the world. I searched only in schools, because that’s where one finds design in purest and most potentially valuable form. In universities, colleges, and institutes on every continent, students are applying their creativity and technical training to expand life’s possibilities. Free from the commercial pressures of professional life, the next generation of designers is channeling their craft to improve the world. In the process, they provide a key to better understanding our environment and its enormous diversity of experiences.
The results of this search will be showcased at Global Grad Show, the largest ever graduate design exhibition, opening on October 24. The show is composed of projects from 50 schools in 30 countries on 6 continents.
To describe just a few:
A kitchen for cooks with one arm
An app that allows non-verbal children to communicate with their parents
A shower that users operate with their feet for communities without running water
A social gaming app for elderly people who have trouble leaving the house
A browser plugin that makes websites easier to read for dyslexic people
A kit that transforms an IV pole into a toy to make hospitals less intimidating for sick children
A breast pump and baby bottle redesigned for working mothers
Inhabitable roofs for overcrowded refugee camps
A suit that adds physical sensation to virtual reality
145 projects from 50 schools in 30 countries
The purpose of Global Grad Show is to bring together, in a single space, highlights from the degree shows of the most innovative technology and design programs in the world. This includes big names like MIT, Royal College of Art, and Tsinghua University, as well as smaller ones such as the Srishti Insitute in Bangalore and Higher Institute of Industrial Design in Havana.
The show’s diversity is what makes it so exciting to curate. There are high tech projects and low tech, expensive ones and low cost, mechanical and manual and virtual. For me, the 145 projects in Global Grad Show comprise a kind of collective intelligence, channeled through the various schools and pointed at the most pressing issues of our time: how to increase access to education, food, and shelter; how to encourage exchange and build community; how to reduce waste and generate clean energy.
Meet the Future of Design
Global Grad Show was created to open the field of design to participants from as many places as possible. This includes the show’s exhibitors, of course, but also its audience. In the exhibition you’ll find products intended for infants and for the elderly, for athletes, office workers, fruit vendors, and families displaced by war. Almost every work in the show is represented by its creator, making Global Grad Show the largest student gathering ever assembled. Our goal is to make it clear to anyone who visits that design is a vital part of life, relevant to everyone and in need of contributions from everywhere. We hope that you’ll take part.