Solving the World’s
Problems through Design
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“The only important thing about design
is how it relates to people.”—Victor Papanek
May + June 2010
Emily Pilloton wants to change the world one step
at a time through the transformative power of
design. And she expects you to help. Pilloton is
an industrial designer who, fed up with the crass
commercialism so often found in her discipline, set
out to shift the way product designers think about
what it is they do. She wants designers to move
beyond a narrow focus on the products we make
and embrace an important mission: to design with
the goal of bettering the world.
Design Revolution is two books in one. The 100
products showcased here serve both as exam-
ples and inspiration. As Pilloton writes, “Design
Revolution is both a reference and a roadmap,
a call to action and a compendium.” And the
products are incredibly impressive, both for the
breadth of contexts and problems they attempt to
solve and for the cleverness and thoughtfulness
of the solutions.
The collected projects are neatly organized into
broad categories: water, food, well-being, play, ener-
gy, education, enterprise, and mobility. Here are a
• Joshua Silver’s Adaptive Eyecare are eyeglasses
with fluid-filled lenses that can be manually
adjusted with little or no medical training and cost
about $10 per pair.
• Walk Score is a free online application that
measures the walkability of a given location, help-
ing fundamentally change the way people think
about their homes and the built environment.
• Freecycle is a simple email-based platform that
makes it easy to give away unwanted goods. These
relatively simple online products are deeply chang-
ing the way we think about how we live.
• Maya Pedal recycles bicycles into pedal-pow-
ered machines—everything from water pumps to
washing machines (still in the prototype phase).
The best part is that the organization shares the
designs with other NGOs.
• Antivirus is a simple plastic cap that snaps on
to empty soda cans, turning a plentiful local mate-
rial that would otherwise be garbage into a much-
needed safe collection system for used needles.
Design can be conservative (the proverbial better
mousetrap) or subversive. In my opinion, the best
of these products are not just beneficial devices,
but deeper interventions that change the terms of
social or economic reality. The hippo water roller
designed by Pilloton’s own Project H, for example,
not only enables people to carry more water in
areas where attaining water requires a long trek,
but it has also led men in those areas to view water
gathering as a more masculine task, leading in
some cases to higher literacy and education rates
for women and children and larger numbers of
women-run businesses. This goes beyond a revolu-
tion in design to revolution by design.
Providing context for this catalog of world-
changing ingenuity, Pilloton begins her thoughtful,
if somewhat rambling, introduction with a critique
of the role designers play in the global economy
of goods. Mass production means designers have
the ability to make big change through the ampli-