Design For the First World » About
Dx1W began as a sarcastic comment. The idea came to me in a class in which I was asked to create an object on “social design”. The assignment was one week long and there was no specific context. Why would you assume that you can design something to solve a problem for the so called Third World –a world you don’t know– in a week? Well, because Bono has told us so. Didn’t we all just change the world by going to the Live 8 concerts? Having this assignment in class (in NYU) immediately fired me up and raised my discomfort levels with the attempts from First World agents to solve Third World Problems to nuclear fusion temperatures. I decided to do something about it and this is how this competition was born.
To set things straight I am not questioning the need for aid or the good intentions. What really disturbs me are the paternalistic and misinformed approaches that end up as a waste of resources and cause more harm than good in the long run. This approach to aid has been critiqued before, there’s even a term for this kind of design in academia: parachute design or remote design. What happens when someone does a parachute design is that the well and nicely designed objects aimed to “improve” aspects of a communities are overlooking the real problems and the context of that community, and hence, if lucky, they end up as part of the furniture or as children toys (if they are durable). As a side effect the designer is mocked in that community for years to come and will be dubbed “El gringo” from then on, passing that name on to any other white guy that set foot in that village. Oh we’re such a bunch of smart asses in the developing world.
There are of course (and gladly) plenty of successful attempts to help the developing world. So why am I focusing on the bad? Because there’s more of the Bono and Bob Geldorf and Brangelina type of aid out there than of the useful ones. Yes, its great to have celebrities involved to raise awareness but where does all that money go? I don’t see much change here, instead I see how the developing goals (you know, the “make poverty history”, have clean water, basic education) keep being pushed further into the future.
But there’s something else. Design for the First World shouldn’t be funny. The phrase “Third World minds designing for First World Problems” provokes smiles in many including myself. But why is it funny? Why do we assume that Third World minds shouldn’t be involved in the problems of the First World? In all honesty and boldness I think we (the Third World) have grown accustomed to the top helping the bottom and because of that we’ve grown lazy. We don’t even think things can be both ways. We can help them! I believe there is a need to re-educate ourselves as developing countries and gain agency. Let’s clean the mess in our rooms after we play; our rooms being the whole world.
Furthermore, the problems the First World is having are and should be our concern as well, after all that is where we are heading. We’ve created a culture that relies on aid and we (and them) often discard our responsibility in improving our present conditions and shaping a better future. True, there’s a lot on our plate (problems, that is), but there are enough inspiring individuals in our communities that have stood up and made a difference. It’s time to follow their example and wake up (perhaps in reverse order). Not only are we capable of providing significant contributions to create a better and more sustainable society in both the developed and the developing worlds, it is our responsibility as inhabitants of this planet.
Please get in touch if you wanna discuss anything regarding the competition or this topics.
May 26, 2010