From Pools to School Lunches: How Public Interest Design is Changing the Way We Do Things

Over the past two years, our team at has been highlighting the people, projects and ideas that have helped bring the terms 'public-interest' and 'social-impact' to the forefront of design. We’ve been privileged to witness the birth of a movement and we are committed to doing everything we can to help it grow and mature.

There is already so much activity in this rapidly growing field, but a critical part of that growth is spreading the word and connecting people to the ideas, stories, and projects that are leading the way. So here at we’ve made it our New Years Resolution to re-double our efforts and share even more with you.

To get the New Year started off right, we’ve collected 10 of our favorite articles that have helped spread the word and bring visibility to the many people, projects and ideas moving this field forward. These articles feature not only a diversity of public interest design projects, from civic hacking in San Francisco to new hospitals in Rwanda, but they also bring to light some of the most important questions still yet to be answered.

How Plus Pool is Helping Revolutionize Architecture - Karen Wong- Architizer

In this forward-looking article, Karen Wong, Deputy Director of the New Museum and Co-Founder of Ideas City, discusses crowdfunding and how Plus Pool, the “not-so-crazy-anymore idea” for a pool that floats in and cleans the water of New York City’s East River, exemplifies a shift in how architecture is being practiced. “There’s a mini revolution bubbling up in the architectural community. Young practices are redefining how to get work, fund work and make work.”

Improving School Lunch by Design - Courtney E. Martin - The New York Times

In New York TimesFixes column, journalist Courtney E. Martin provides a thorough look into the process and results of IDEO’s project on reimagining the school food system, done in collaboration with San Francisco Unified School District. Moving beyond just the ingredients of school lunch, the questions posed by IDEO designers focus on not what, but how students are eating lunch. Their process and their results will have you reevaluating how you approach projects [hint: human-centered].

Blazing Trails - Cheryl Weber - Residential Architect

In this article for Residential Architect, Cheryl Weber discusses why today’s young design professionals are propelled by a dedication to social justice and what this trend means for the future of design. She explains how and why today’s young professionals see socially conscious design less as an idealistic goal, and more as the third leg of sustainability: environmental, economic, and social. The article profiles numerous leaders in the field of public interest design and discusses some of the most pressing challenges the field will need to overcome.

Dignifying Design - John Cary and Courtney E. Martin - The New York Times

In this thought-provoking article, founder John Cary and celebrated author Courtney E. Martin tell some of the most inspiring stories of public interest design around the world, from Rwanda to Los Angeles. The article highlights how design has the capacity to improve not only buildings, but people, places and processes that affect our lives everyday, no matter where we live. Cary and Martin ask us to imagine the potential if designers — uniquely trained to listen, observe, and improve the way things function, feel and look — were embedded in schools, community centers, nonprofit organizations, health clinics, and government offices.

Blighted Cities Prefer Razing to Rebuilding - Timothy Williams - The New York Times

In this article packed with research studies and real world examples, Timothy Williams discusses a growing trend in cities: the decision to tear down building instead of fixing them. Williams analyzes how this decision to “raze rather than rebuild” is reflective of larger shifts in urban policy and explains how and why it’s happening in many legacy cities. Most interestingly though, in the second half of the article he explores how these “disinvestment patterns” are resulting in a whole host of new opportunities for tactical urbanism, community-based projects and new approaches to neighborhood revitalization in blighted urban cores.

What Legos Can Teach us About Civic Participation - Alex Gilliam - Next City

Before Alex Gilliam was building playgrounds, heroes, and civic-design maker spaces, he was a fellow at the National Building Museum, where he spent time learning about how play is a powerful tool for civic engagement. In this article he explains how the way that children play with Legos reflects many of our basic human behaviors and tendencies and how those help shed light on some of our larger social challenges and the fundamental processes we must consider when designing our cities. This piece helps remind us that understanding human behavior, emotion, and decision making are some of the most essential parts of any design process.

A Resilient New York City Requires Social Infrastructure Too - Megan Marini - Reboot

In this fascinating post on the Reboot Blog, designer and co-founder of 3x3 design Megan Marini examines the differences between hard, soft and social infrastructure in the wake of Sandy Recovery. She discusses the tremendous potential for collective resiliency when social infrastructure becomes a part of the plan, and provides examples that highlight the critical importance of social infrastructure in the rebuilding of New York. The article sheds light on how some of the most invisible mechanisms for resiliency can be the most effective.

Architecture's Lean In Moment- -Alexandra Lange - Metropolis

The year of 2013 marked a resurgence in conversations about women's roles in industries like architecture, engineering and computer science. Particularly, there’s been much written on the role of females in architecture following the controversy over the Pritzker Prize. In this powerful article, Alexandra Lange lays out the facts on how women are continually disrespected in Architecture, and backs her points up with shocking facts. This superb article provides a sharp wake-up call for the profession and a few excellent suggestions of where to begin.

Prototyping a Community Center -Dan Parham - Medium

In this interview with Morgan Fitzgibbons, co-founder of [freespace], Dan Parham asks about how civic hacking is changing our cities, what the future version of a community center is, and what we should each be responsible for as part of our civic duties: “ is the responsibility of literally everyone to help move our cities and our communities forward. If you think voting once a year is the extent of your civic responsibility you are incredibly naive.”

Children of the Revolution - Elizabeth Evitts Dickinson - Architect Magazine

In this article for Architect Magazine, Elizabeth Evitts Dickinson takes an in-depth look at the Millennial generation and the ways in which they are changing the workplace culture in architecture and design. She argues that Millennials are poised to turn the architecture and design industry on its head, and pioneer a dramatic reshaping of the way design is practiced. From Design for America to BIM to Kickstarter, Dickinson discusses an impressive array of trends and how they are transforming the industry.

If you want more news, videos, and stories from, you can sign up for our brand-new weekly newsletter to get a weekly dose of public interest design delivered right to your inbox! Just click here and fill in your name and email on the right-hand side.


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via Gage Skidmore / Flickr

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The Planet
via International Labour Organization / Flickr and Michael Moore / Facebook

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