Best of 2013: The Top Nine Public Interest Design Milestones

Building on our review of’s 2013 predictions for the public interest design field, today we’re highlighting the milestones from this past year. The list looks beyond individual design projects and instead toward initiatives with far-reaching consequences for the field—and, in some cases, the world.

Building on our review of’s 2013 predictions for the public interest design field, today we’re highlighting the milestones from this past year. The list looks beyond individual design projects and instead toward initiatives with far-reaching consequences for the field—and, in some cases, the world. From a glossy magazine that dedicated an entire issue to good design, to a glossary that cuts through the jargon, to several groundbreaking events and a new bar for training the next generation in the art and science of human-centered design, here are our top 10 public interest design initiatives of 2013.

1. 'Architectural Record' Sheltering the World Issue Publishes

Architectural Record managed to one-up its groundbreaking March 2012 issue a year later in March 2013 with its stellar “Sheltering the World” issue. It brought into focus one of the greatest and most fundamental unmet needs of our time—safe, equitable, healthy housing for every human being. The issue presents "more than a dozen new examples that demonstrate the vastly different scales, contexts, and approaches to accommodating the needs of various populations around the world." As we continue to read reports and articles predicting huge urban migration due to population growth, we’re sure this collection of housing typologies will be revisited and referenced for years to come.

2. GOOD Design Glossary Publishes

Also in March, GOOD Magazine published its first-of-its-kind “Good Design Glossary” in an effort to develop shared language for this emerging movement or field at the intersection of design and service. The glossary sheds light on the redundancy of certain words and phrases. Despite arguments over “correct” terminology, we are all speaking the same language—and one that will continue to grow and develop as this field forms. View an interactive version on or read an extended introduction with hyperlinks to entities and individuals on

3. 'Design Affects' Publishes

One of our favorite new blogs this year was Design Affects, edited by London-based architect and social impact practitioner Katie Crepeau, who recently joined as editor. Under the tagline “Putting humanity back into design,” Design Affects explores "meaningful intersections of design, social enterprise, and environmental stewardship with like-minded people.” From project reviews to practitioner interviews to introspective pieces, Crepeau represents one of leading voices who are shaping this movement.

4. The Pritzker Prize and Architecture's Diversity Problem Come Under Fire

This year brought with it a resurgent controversy surrounding Denise Scott Brown's decades-old snub by the Pritzker Architecture Prize, stemming from comments made by Scott Brown in late-March. The comments spurred a petition, organized by Harvard University graduate students, that has now elicited nearly 20,000 signatories. As this author and Marika Schioiri-Clark wrote for, "gender disparity in architecture, both symbolically and substantially, is not just a problem for women; it’s a problem for all of us." As with many of the milestones included in this list, we hope the conversation continues to grow and we see more improvements made towards closing the gender gap.

5. Design Futures Summer Training Program Launches

The inaugural Design Futures Public Interest Design (PID) Student Leadership Forum was held at the University of Texas at Austin from May 28-June 1, 2013. A select group of multi-disciplinary students and recognized leaders in the field convened to explore the emergence of public interest design in history, its philosophical roots, and contemporary challenges encountered in practice. Forty-three students participated, from multiple disciplines and 12 different colleges around the country. The 2014 offering of Design Futures will take place June 3-7, hosted by the Tulane School of Architecture in New Orleans.

6. / PlusAcumen Course Attracts Thousands

This summer, trailblazers and social impact investing pioneers Acumen collaborated to host an online learning program, called “Human-Centered Design for Social Innovation.” It was a free, five-week course, introducing the concepts of human-centered design to create innovative, effective, and sustainable solutions for social change. Remarkably, the course attracted 5,000 teams from 122 countries, not just dwarfing other training programs in size and stature, but also pairing global learning with local engagement. We are on the lookout for the next iteration, and similar courses that are enhancing and totally rethinking design education.

7. TEDCity2.0 Imagines the Future of Cities

TEDCity2.0 took place September 20 at The Times Center in New York, and simultaneously was live-streamed to 138 TEDx events in 48 countries. The global event featured an unexpected mix of over 20 speakers, including a selection of public interest design advocates, such as photographer Iwan Baan; civic technologist Catherine Bracy of Code for America; HUD Sec. Shaun Donovan; visionary architect Chris Downey; place maker Toni Griffin; sustainability guru Lance Hosey; Burkina Faso architect Diébédo Francis Kéré; transportation evangelist Enrique Peñalosa; impact designer Alan Ricks of MASS Design Group; Berkeley poverty professor Ananya Roy; walkability advocate and author Jeff Speck; and New York City Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan. Seven of the aforementioned have had their talks posted to the main website, generating millions of views.

8. Autodesk Technology Impact Software Donation Program Launches

In September, during the 2013 Clinton Global Intitiative (CGI) Annual Meeting, Autodesk launched its Technology Impact program, providing software donations to select nonprofits that are directly employing design to create a better world. In its first year, the program represents a major, $7.5 million commitment on the part of the company. Autodesk will initially make two licenses, chosen from the company’s four most popular professional design software suites, available to at least 500 nonprofit organizations. At this time, the program is available in the United States and Canada only, but it is expected to scale globally in the coming months.

9. LEAP Symposium Addresses the Pipeline

Also in September, Art Center College of Design in Pasadena hosted the LEAP Symposium to address the theme of “The New Professional Frontier in Design for Social Innovation.” The event united an impressive list of 100 national thought leaders, educators, designers and practitioners from business, international development, and social enterprise to address the emerging career pathways for designers in the social innovation space. With thorough documentation presented on the website in video, written, and drawn formats, the forthcoming comprehensive workbook is one to keep an eye out for in 2014.

Full disclosure: The editorial team members have been involved either tangentially or directly with several of the following entries over the past year; they believe these ties represent a useful confluence of interests.

Julian Meehan

Young leaders from around the world are gathering at the United Nations Headquarters in New York Saturday to address arguably the most urgent issue of our time. The Youth Climate Summit comes on the heels of an international strike spearheaded by Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old climate activist from Sweden, who arrived in New York via emissions-free sailboat earlier this month.

Translated from Swedish, "berg" means "mountain," so it may feel fated that a young woman with Viking blood in her veins and summit in her name would be at the helm. But let's go out on a limb and presume Thunberg, in keeping with most activists, would chafe at the notion of pre-ordained "destiny," and rightly so. Destiny is passive — it happens to you. It's also egomaniacal. Change, on the other hand, is active; you have to fight. And it is humble. "We need to get angry and understand what is at stake," Thunberg declared. "And then we need to transform that anger into action."

This new generation of activists' most pernicious enemy is denial. The people in charge — complacent politicians and corporation heads who grossly benefit from maintaining the status quo — are buffered from real-life consequences of climate change. But millions of people don't share that privilege. For them, climate change isn't an abstract concept, but a daily state of emergency, whether it comes in the form of "prolonged drought in sub-Saharan Africa…devastating tropical storms sweeping across Southeast Asia, the Caribbean and the Pacific…[or] heatwaves and wildfires," as Amnesty International reportsare all too real problems people are facing on a regular basis.

RELATED: Greta Thunberg urges people to turn to nature to combat climate change

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