The 04 continental context
Africa, with its large and youthful population, is a potential hotbed of socially responsible design, says Mugendi M’Rithaa Where is the future of design internationally? The global trends point towards more engaged and empathic expressions of design. Previously, society tended to view designers as being elitist in nature. In many such instances, designers were indeed part of the problem, so to speak, as their practice was detached from the day-to-day socio-economic and geopolitical realities that the vast majority of people related to. Current trends point towards socially responsible design, wherein a co-design approach (between designers and potential end-users) is adopted as a more pragmatic stance in matters affecting the majority of humanity (or the “other 90%”, as some have called this segment of our population). Socially responsible design is also viewed as a more contemporary attempt to operationalise and compliment corporate social responsibility (and investment) initiatives as they relate to commerce and industry. Tell us more about service design. Service design is an emerging field that seeks to improve the user experience in the use and delivery of services within the traditional product-service system (PSS) model. The reality is that the focus is less on products as tangible outputs of the design process, and more on the non-tangible notions such as usersatisfaction and enjoyment resulting from interaction between key elements within the PSS domain. Service design is particularly relevant to the need for enhancing service delivery by various agencies and engenders a multi-disciplinary set of actors including those from the fields of planning, information technology and traditional design disciplines.
What should be the role of designers in Africa in the face of challenges such as poverty, unemployment and infrastructural deficits? With a population of about 900 million, Africa is a vast territory that is second only to Asia in both geographic and population size, with about three times the landmass of Europe. Designers on our continent need to focus on the needs of a predominantly youthful population with exceptionally high unemployment rates and other pressing challenges associated with this reality. Context-responsive solutions should preferably absorb the surplus labour available and employ participatory design approaches that take cognisance of the aspirations of the youth. One cannot be prescriptive in any sense, as the process of engagement will reveal the priority areas (such as job creation, vocational up-skilling and microfinance support). Sustainable strategies would of necessity engage with the youth and support their participation in matters affecting their lives. Proactive and progressive designers on our continent need to observe and listen to those who experience the challenges on a regular basis – only then can any forthcoming solutions be truly sustainable and beneficial to the continent’s denizens.
FACING PAGE The Violence Prevention through Urban Upgrading (VPUU) is a community participation planning model using urban upgrades to reduce crime and engage communities in developing neighbourhood cohesion. It has seen significant successes in Khayelitsha. TOP LEFT AND RIGHT Dibanisa Iistapho Hostels to Home Project: Langa, Guguletu, Nyanga by Architects Associated BOTTOM Tsai Design Studio’s award winning Nested Bed Bunk is a space conscious design solution aimed at low income families and orphanages. Photo: Guto Bussab