In a recent Fast Company editorial, Bruce Nussbaum asks whether humanitarian design is the new imperialism. Citing the partial failure of One Laptop Per Child and what he sees as a presumptuous West-designing-for-the-rest trend in everything from Acumen Fund to IDEO to Emily Pilloton's Project H Design (to which he dedicates much space), Nussbaum worries that well-intentioned design might be "perceived through post-colonial eyes as colonialism."
But should we take a moment now that the movement is gathering speed to ask whether or not American and European designers are collaborating with the right partners, learning from the best local people, and being as sensitive as they might to the colonial legacies of the countries they want to do good in. Do designers need to better see themselves through the eyes of the local professional and business classes who believe their countries are rising as the U.S. and Europe fall and wonder who, in the end, has the right answers? Might Indian, Brazilian and African designers have important design lessons to teach Western designers?