Simple 'pattern' making?: Design(er) dreams

The design community can play a crucial role in promoting social and environmental responsibility.


The design community can play a crucial role in promoting social and environmental responsibility. DESIGN: SAMRA AAMIR

Every individual has a role to play in society. It can either be positive or negative but collectively these contributions transform into a homogeneous whole and influence the quality of life for society at large. When it comes to promoting social good, some have a greater responsibility than others and among them is the community of ‘designers’ who shape the physical world that we live in. The term Designers Social Responsibility (DSR), derived from Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), has been introduced as a formal branch of design education to promote environmentally responsible planning, development, design and construction. The idea is to align business activities with the development of society.

As the word ‘design’ carries such significance, a brief introduction at this point is important. Even though the word is commonly used in our region, it is often misunderstood. A simplistic definition used frequently by design teachers is ‘a problem solving exercise.’ However, I feel that design, the technical aspect of it, is a much more sophisticated multi-disciplinary activity that relates to the fine arts, science, engineering, social sciences and economics. It is also a creative process that requires specialised training in a specific design discipline.

The term DSR can be interpreted and elaborated to mean quite a few things. But DSR is introduced here to present its three distinct aspects: First, as a part of basic philosophy of design, second, as a part of design academic curriculums and third, as an aspect of social work. The first aspect promotes adherence to a design philosophy in which environmental, social and ethical impacts are as important as aesthetic and commercial prospects. The second aspect refers to promoting a design curriculum in schools and vocational design institutions in which professionals can re-imagine their roles and divert their energies towards pro-people, pro-environment and pro-planet strategies. Lastly, using DSR as a form of social service can be likened to a ‘self-tithing’ scheme. In medieval times ‘tithe’ was the contribution one made to the church. Peasants would set aside 10% of their crops for the poor, while the rich man would allot 10% of his yearly income to feed the poor. Victor Papanek, late designer, educator and advocate for DSR, first mentioned this in 1972, in his book Design for the Real World: “Being designers, we don’t have to pay money in the form of a tithe… Being designers, we can pay by giving ten percent of our crop of ideas and talents to the seventy-five percent of mankind in need… Most of the rest of us can’t do that well, but I think that even the most successful designer can afford one-tenth of his time for the needs of men.”

Unlike developed countries, where a vibrant design culture thrives, underdeveloped countries pay little attention to design education. In our part of the world, design is still taken as simple ‘pattern’ making — a form-giving activity or some aesthetic statement. Pakistan may be walking a tightrope, but the country is rich in DSR and has a thriving philanthropic culture. Some prominent names that have put their money where their mouth is when it comes to DSR include Yasmeen Lari, the first female architect of the country who quit her regular practice and dedicated her life to uplift marginalised communities and heritage sites. Another example is Alex Soffiantini & Associates (ASA Architects), a firm run by Shahid Abdulla and late Arshad Abdulla, which is known for its many pro-bono projects, the most remarkable among them being The Citizens Foundation (TCF) and several hundred other schools that provide subsidised quality education to the underprivileged. Lahore-based architects, husband and wife, Pervaiz and Sajda Vandal, also work to empower rural communities with a special focus on the revival and rejuvenation of indigenous arts and crafts. Indus Earth, an NGO in Karachi managed by architect Shahid Khan, works along the same lines and helps disadvantaged communities; while Arif Hasan, a world renowned architect and planner, is a design activist known for his pro-poor, pro-environment presentations, research and activism.

It won’t be incorrect to say that the designer’s community, which is traditionally known for catering to the corporate industry and pushing products designed by and for the privileged, is finally undergoing change. It is now adopting a holistic view, keeping in mind a secure and peaceful future for all sections of society.

Danish Azar Zuby is a leading interior design professional in the country. 

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, June 22nd, 2014.

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