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Want to Start Your Own Public Design Firm? Here's a First Step

Around this time last year I stumbled across a website that changed my life. It was the homepage for the Public Interest Design Summer...

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Around this time last year I stumbled across a website that changed my life. It was the homepage for the Public Interest Design Summer Program at the University of Texas at Austin. As I read the program description, I knew I had found what I had spent the last two years looking for:
This program will provide education and training for students who wish to pursue careers in public interest design - careers that will allow them to use their skills and expertise in design to address large complex problems and create positive impact in society.
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The program is taking place again this summer with an added bonus, an epic five-day forum that will convene 20 of the most well respected and accomplished professionals in the public interest design world. This first-of-its-kind event, called the Design Futures Forum, will condense the entire summer program down into just one week, a sort of “crash course” in public interest design, intended for students who identify themselves as future leaders.
The Design Futures Forum is in many ways the culmination of my experience last summer, so I want to tell you the story of how I found my way to the program and the important lessons it taught me about pursuing a career in public interest design.
Before I discovered the program I was stuck. I had a strong intuitive sense that it was possible to forge a career in the emerging field of “social impact design” but I didn’t know how, and there were no road maps. The closer I got to graduation, the more I felt the pressure. I quickly began to realize that if I was serious about a career in social impact design, I was going to have to take a huge leap of faith, and that scared the shit out of me.
On top of the fact that I could only find a handful of firms practicing social impact design, I felt like I was ridiculously under-qualified to be hired by any of them. I had begun to get desperate. It was already March of my senior year and I didn’t have a single job prospect, so I did what so many other students without job offers do: started looking at graduate programs.
But the more I thought about it, the more I realized a graduate program was not the right course for me. I already knew what I wanted to do, I just didn’t know how to do it. Because of that, the leap of faith I knew I’d have to take was a huge risk, both financially and professionally. What I needed was the knowledge, skills and guidance that would make that leap of faith less risky. Not only did UT’s summer program promise to educate and train me in the practice of public interest design, but it was only eight weeks long, and very affordable.

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Got a Big Idea? Take the Buckminster Fuller Challenge for 100K

R. Buckminster Fuller was an inventor who noted the revolutionary nature of innovation and believed we can change the world through design.

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“Revolution by design and invention is the only revolution tolerable to all men, all societies, and all political systems anywhere. Every nation welcomed the invention of the airplane, and refrigeration.” - R. Buckminster Fuller, Utopia or Oblivion: the prospects for humanity [1965]
When imagining what the world might be like in one hundred years, it is useful to remember how radically different the world was just a hundred years ago. In 1913, vitamins were just being discovered, stainless steel was invented, and the first electric refrigerator for home use was sold. It would be years before anyone owned a radio.
R. Buckminster Fuller, one of the most visionary thinkers and inventors of the 20th century, was convinced that the history of humans aboard “Spaceship Earth” is best understood by charting our scientific discoveries, inventions and resources. In doing so, we are also able to identify trends useful in anticipating future developments and needs.
Bucky was ahead of his time. As early as 1917, his research disclosed an “accelerating acceleration” of technological evolution with a clear trend of “doing ever more with ever less”. An ever-increasing number of inventions were rapidly transforming and shrinking the world, while vastly improving the standards of living of increasing numbers of people. He saw this increasing ability to support life as the true measure of “wealth” and realized that for the first time in history, humans had the ability “to make the world work for 100% of humanity,” but only if the focus of technological development shifted from "weaponry to livingry."
This realization led him to commit his life to developing a vast range of “life-protecting and supporting” designs. He is best known for inventing his Dymaxion house (1927), car (1933), map (1943), and most famously geodesic domes (1948). However, his most lasting impact may be his tireless encouragment of others, particularly younger generations, to think about global problems and seek design solutions. He was an early advocate of whole system thinking, renewable energy sources and a pioneer in sustainability. In the 1960s and 70s, he developed the World Game with students as a tool for exploring “design science” solutions “to provide a higher standard of living for all of humanity…on a continually sustainable basis for all generations to come.”
The annual Buckminster Fuller Challenge carries on his legacy and “design science revolution” by awarding $100,000 to support the development of sustainable comprehensive, anticipatory design solutions for critical problems now facing our planet. The call for entries to this year’s challenge opens March 1st. Recommending projects is welcome.

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Playing Brave: Online Gaming With Real Life Missions

PlayBrave is a game that prompts people to change the world through a series of tasks given to them by a fictional secret society.

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I will begin with a wish and work backward: I wish for a world transformed through play. What, you might ask, would such a world look like? This is the question that sits at the heart of Institute of Play, a nonprofit I run focused on empowering people to thrive in a connected world. Our work uses game design and play as levers for change in the design of learning systems, products, programs, and experiences. And while we have designed things from public schools to summer camps, it is our latest project that looks to most fully fulfill this wish.
PlayBrave is a massively multiplayer online social game about playing together to build a kinder, braver world. Developed in partnership with the Born This Way Foundation and Gigantic Mechanic, the game challenges players to take on missions emitted from a secret society working to create a more open and brave world. The society knows that no single act changes the world. But they also realize every act counts and impacts others. They know that to change the world they’ll need to generate thousands, if not millions of actions over the next several months. Can this secret society do this? Can they change the world through their creations? That’s the ultimate challenge of PlayBrave.
One core principle of play is the permission it offers to experiment—with ideas, materials, and ultimately with ways of being with other people. When we choose to play, we open ourselves up to the possibility of seeing and acting in the world and with others in new and sometimes unexpected ways. PlayBrave challenges players to enter a space of play by engaging in a PlayBrave action. These actions range from simple tasks (e.g. “record a video of someone reciting a poem about intolerance and bullying, and upload it to YouTube where everyone can hear it”), to more complex tasks that might require coordinating with other members of the player community (e.g. “find a work of art that promotes kindness and bravery and share it”). Each challenge contains within it the potential for acts of resistance, kindness, experimentation and, above all, change.

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Meet the Video Game School of the Future

Attention middle and high school students: You're going to want to go to this school!


Ask the average middle or high school student if they would rather do algebra or play "Dragon Age II", and the video game option is going to win. But, if an innovative schooling idea called Quest to Learn (Q2L), spreads to the mainstream, future students might not have to choose. Don't worry, Q2L students don't play commercial video games all day. Instead, the school's systems thinking-centered academic curriculum immerses students in a "game-like learning environment," while also teaching kids how to design their own video games.

The first Q2L school opened in New York City in 2009, and far from being drilled with test prep, the gamers "learn by 'taking on' the behaviors and practices of the people in real life knowledge domains." That means they become "biologist and historians and mathematicians instead of learning about biology or history or math." Students also acquire marketable real-world skills like website production, film making, and podcasting. Along the way, they solve real world problems, use and analyze data, and learn to communicate effectively.

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What Can TED Do For Education Reform?

TEDActive, the action-oriented arm of the renowned conference-turned-movement, wants to catalyze a student-led education reform revolution.


Could the ideas generated at TED catalyze education reform? That's the hope of the organizers of the TEDActive conference, a new venture from the folks who bring us brilliant "ideas worth spreading" year after year. Through TEDActive, the organization's encouraging people to step up and do something about the issues facing our world, and that includes education. To that end, the new TEDActive Education Project plans to "explore how children can make an impact on the education system."

The education reform space is clearly dominated by adults—parents, teachers, administrators, policy makers and politicians—so the hope is that the project can help bring student voices to the table and catalyze a true education revolution. TED is asking conference-goers, as well as trend and innovation company PSFK's expert network—the Purple List—to "explore, collaborate and act" on the issues and ideas raised with the goal of "delivering a set of micro-actions that anyone can do to move a project."

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What if Changing the World Could Be Fun? Yoxi Needs Your Help

Are you a creative problem-solver, a social entrepreneur, a food activist? This is your chance turn your idea into action.

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