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Designing for Social Impact

Designing for Social Impact

All around the country interior designers and interior design students are contributing their time, talents and skills to make life better for others. They are creating social impact by transforming community centers, women’s shelters, homeless shelters, and other spaces where people gather, seek refuge or learn. These are projects that, for lack of resources or public support, most likely otherwise would not get done. And many more opportunities await designers. All you have to do is look for a way to give back to your communities or make the world better.

Building better communities

Making spaces more accessible and supportive for persons with disabilities or other support needs. Improving communal or public spaces to make them safer and healthier. Creating spaces for children, older people and persons with extra needs that encourage exploration, learning and interaction. Providing a welcoming and secure environment for individuals and families that have been displaced from their homes.

These are just some of the ways that designers can help meet the needs of their communities. Check with local not-for-profit and charitable organizations to find out what opportunities for social impact exist in your community. You can probably collaborate with other local professionals, tradespeople, service organizations, or volunteers to make the project more manageable. And don’t forget interior design students. Working on such projects is a great learning opportunity for them and a mentoring opportunity for you.

Reducing environmental impacts

If the idea of taking on another project is not appealing, consider contributing your knowledge instead. You can be a valuable resource to advise and educate others about the ways in which their choices of products and materials impact the physical and natural environment.

Events of the past several years have made more people aware of the potential risks that interior environments may pose to their health and well-being. Hardly a day goes by without some climate-related disaster making the news. Addressing these challenges has become a top priority. Yet, people often are uncertain what they can do about them. As a reliable expert, you can offer them solutions to make their environments more eco-friendly and healthy. Educate others on materials that are less harmful to the environment and to your home.

Addressing social issues

Tackling complex social issues requires the cooperation and collaboration of many stakeholders. Still, interior designers can help to effect change and make a social impact. They can do so by bringing their experience and expertise to the table or by advocating for better-designed environments for everyone.

For a number of years, the United States has been facing a critical shortage of housing. Especially more affordable housing for middle-class and lower-income Americans. Interior designers, in conjunction with planners, developers, builders, architects and others, can help to produce feasible, better-informed models for more affordable, well-designed living spaces.

Other areas where designers can provide valuable input and guidance include:

  • making spaces more accessible and suitable for a greater diversity of occupants
  • reducing environmental hazards in public spaces that affect health and safety
  • creating more culturally diverse spaces
  • improving living conditions in facilities that provide services to at-risk populations

Accessing resources

Many designers contribute to their communities in different ways. Do you want to get involved? A good place to start is to consult your professional network to find out what others have done or are doing. Also, often chapters of design professional organizations undertake or sponsor community projects. You’ll can find case studies or stories about those projects on their websites.

Recently, a group of professional and industry organizations, in collaboration with Metropolis magazine, created an initiative that includes taking an Interior Pledge for Positive Impact.

After having conducted research on conditions in homeless shelters for many years, interior design professor Dr. Jill Pable of Florida State University created the website Design Resources for Homelessness. The site serves as a knowledge resource that shares information about practical research, best practices and related content on the design of facilities for persons who are experiencing homelessness.

Participating in community or social impact projects can not only be extremely gratifying but has business benefits as well. It can be another way to provide visibility for your firm and an opportunity to network with other leaders in your community. Whatever your motivation, you’re sure to find a project or role that meshes with your interests and abilities.

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