revolution or plain old regular revolution, Pilloton
rarely questions the basic social structures that
maintain many of the problems these products
attempt to alleviate. Project Inkwell, for example,
the client for the IDEO-designed Spark educational
device, is a consortium of technology companies
with a direct interest in the introduction of tech-
nology to the classroom. While the Spark may be
a wonderful product with real educational benefit,
I’d suggest that the core design problem facing pub-
lic education is significantly deeper. Given a situa-
tion in which schools don’t have enough money for
basic infrastructure, materials, and teacher sala-
ries, encouraging them to spend money on high-
tech devices like the Spark seems neutral at best as
a strategy for improving education.
This last point is significant, I believe. Without
this deeper consideration, designers limit them-
selves to treating symptoms—putting the prover-
bial lipstick on a pig. The power of design is not
just in solving problems but also in reframing them
entirely. In that sense, some of the examples in
Design Revolution fall a bit short.
Still, these are quibbles. Taken as a whole, Design
Revolution is a fantastic sourcebook of inspiring
designs and creative problem solving and a deeply
humanistic call to arms. Pilloton wants noth-
ing less than for designers to focus their energy,
knowledge, and talent on making people’s lives
better. This plays out in ways stark (access to clean
water, affordable prosthetics) and subtle (the joy
of making your own soccer ball). It is perhaps this
message that comes through most clearly in Design
Revolution: We are a human family, and design can
be an act of caretaking and community.
Long live the revolution!
May + June 2010
reading page after page of inspiring, world-chang-
ing product designs made me wish I were making
things like this too.
And that’s the point. Reading Design Revolution
should make us a little bit uncomfortable. Its intent
is to change behavior.
Does it succeed?
To do so, it needs both to inspire and empower.
As inspiration, the book is an unquestionable suc-
cess. Reading through these projects, it’s impossible
not to begin to think about the role that design
can and should play in making our world more
humane, more livable, more sustainable—in short,
a better place. And it’s difficult, even if you didn’t
start out there, not to want to take part.
Recognizing the need to reach young designers
with her message, Pilloton recently embarked on
a 25-school tour of the U.S. in a vintage Airstream
trailer. At each stop, students (and teachers and
passersby) have a chance to examine, talk about,
and play with many of the products showcased in
the book. The message is clear: This stuff is real (as
are the problems it addresses), and it’s meaningful
and accessible: You too can join this revolution.
At first Design Revolution seems a bit thin in
the empowerment department. Despite its fairly
lengthy introduction, I left the book with many of
the same questions I brought to it: How can I sup-
port myself doing socially beneficial work? What
kinds of projects might I contribute to? How does
design fit in to the really big questions? What proj-
ects most benefit from design? And so on. In the
book and the accompanying downloadable “tool
kit,” Pilloton does a great job sketching the rough
outlines of how designers think about designing for
social good, but the book is ultimately more a cel-
ebration than a manual.
This follows the quasi-punk entrepreneurial
stance of Project H. You don’t need tons of money
(Project H began with $1,000) or a fancy office
(Emily started the organization at her parents’
kitchen table); just find a way to do it.
On deeper reflection, the focus on inspiration is
probably appropriate. Pilloton is not just trying to
change individual behavior right now. She’s trying
to change our cultural understanding of design
from the act of forming things to that of changing
conditions. Hers is a long-term project.
With that in mind, I was occasionally disappoint-
ed that while the title raises the question of design
About the Author Nadav Savio is a senior
user experience designer at Google, where he has
led design for mobile and Web search, helped
develop an SMS-based trading application for sub-Saharan Africa and, most recently, is working on
the upcoming Earth Engine platform for Google.
org. Before joining Google, Savio helped design and build some of
the earliest commercial websites at Hotwired and was a founding
principal of Giant Ant, where he designed Web and software products for Fortune 500 companies and startups including Electronic
Arts, PBS, Qualcomm, and Yamaha, and PBS. He is motivated by
empathy, social conscience, and a belief in the power of visualization to help people make good decisions.
© 2010 ACM 1072-5220/10/0500 $10.00