Calling All Socially Responsible Designers

Designers enrich our lives in a myriad of ways. From furniture to coffee mugs, a designer is part of the production team. The pervasiveness of design gives designers an important role and an opportunity to use design to call attention to important social issues.
Socially responsible design addresses social, environmental, economic, and political issues through the use of design, according to the website The design and merchandise company Felissimo believes in socially responsible design so they partnered with the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to create the Design 21 Award. Design 21 then became a biannual competition, and in 2006 an online community.

Design 21’s online community brings designers and non-profit organizations together in order to “create, share and discuss socially responsible design.” Over the last five years about 5,000 designers from five continents participated in Design 21 competitions, and 159 of them were awarded prizes and had their work exhibited worldwide.
The four pillars of the online community are:
* Design it: a series of competitions focusing designers on social issues;
* Tell Us: information exchange on where good design can be found;
* Find It: a marketplace where goods can be offered from which some of the proceeds support charities, (typical of the modus operandi of Felissimo Design House), and
* The Plaza: an area hosting portfolios and profiles of designers and NGOs as well as a networking site.
Design 21 Competitions
The Millennium Promise creates an online media campaign design for the non-profit organization by the same name. The goal of the organization is to achieve the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in Africa by 2015. According to Design 21, the campaign’s goal is to “prompt the general public to do what they can to support the cause and urge their leaders to stick to their commitment to the MDGs.”

The eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are:
Goal 1: Eradicate Extreme Hunger and Poverty
Goal 2: Achieve Universal Primary Education
Goal 3: Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women
Goal 4: Reduce Child Mortality
Goal 5: Improve Maternal Health
Goal 6: Combat HIV/AIDS, Malaria and other diseases
Goal 7: Ensure Environmental Sustainability
Goal 8: Develop a Global Partnership for Development

Power to the Pedal asks designers to create either a biking accessory or an add-on for bicycles in order to improve the experience of bicycling and encourage more people to use bikes as their main transportation.
Climate change is a “heated issue,” so Design 21’s Heated Issue competition asks designers to create a campaign to educate the public about global warming and how their lifestyles and daily activities.
The Child’s Play competition asks designers to create an object or objects a child can play with that will “inspire the child to derive his/her own associations and invent their own interaction or way of playing with the object.” The object(s) needs be environmentally responsible through its materials, production, and recycling/reuse potential.
In the last couple of years catastrophic events like hurricanes and earthquakes have created the need for massive relief efforts. The Shelter Me competition challenges participants to design “a cost-effective short-term shelter that is affordable, lightweight, strong and easily deployed.”
The UN Documentary Film Festival was created eleven years ago to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Stories from the Field competition gives designers a chance to create the logo for the festival.

Gina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by

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