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Jacqueline Khiu: Design and Content Manager, Design 21: Social Design Network

by Kate Andrews | February 8, 2008

Jacqueline Khiu, DESIGN 21: Social Design Network.

Jacqueline Khiu is the design and content manager for DESIGN 21: Social Design Network. DESIGN 21 is an online community and competition site that explores social consciousness through design. It is a collaborative project undertaken by the global design and merchandise company Felissimo and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Before joining DESIGN 21, Jacqueline was the design editor of Surface magazine and also the editor of both the Australian design and architecture publication Monument and the lifestyle magazine Australian Style. In this interview, she shares her thoughts on a range of subjects including the ability of design to affect global change. Her opinions are both well-informed and interesting, and I thank her for sharing her time with us.

NoD: DESIGN21 is a Social Design Network that inspires social activism by connecting people and organizations that are interested in improving the global community in which we live. Can you please describe how you facilitate the connections that help bring about that end? Is it simply the important matter of creating the context for productive dialogue or is there something more tangible that is happening at Design21?

Jacqueline: DESIGN 21 is an online platform that sets the stage for interaction between designers and non-profits primarily, but really any socially conscious individuals and organizations who are interested in the notion of “better design for the greater good.” People and organizations are welcome to join for free, create a profile and talk to each other. Beyond discussion, we give non-profits (who are, in a sense, the focus of the community) the ability to post specific “needs” to the site. Through a wish list function in their blog they can seek out designers or volunteers for projects or activities – and from the activity we’ve seen this seems to be working quite well.

NoD: How did Design21 come about and can you please explain your relationship with UNESCO?

Jacqueline: Felissimo and UNESCO are equal partners in DESIGN 21, which started in 1995 as a biannual competition aimed at fostering ideas-sharing and cultural awareness among young designers around the world. In 2006 the decision was made to take the competition online – to make it more accessible to a wider audience – and build a community around it and the issue of “social design”. We worked with the web design and development company Area17 to create the new site which was launched in June last year.

heated issue
“Heated Issue” competition:Design an awareness campaign to educate the public on the issue of global warming.
1st. prize: Re-written Aesop’s Fables, by Hwani Lee

NoD: What are your top priorities as Content Manager of Design21? What types of content are you most interested in publishing?

Jacqueline: Right now I’m working on the creation of three new competitions for the first half of this year, but I also work on commissioning articles and interviews for the editorial section. It’s a broad mix of stories. The point of these stories is to reveal the various ways and scales that design plays in improving communities and the people behind these projects – and to address the nine themes that were established with UNESCO.

NoD: Let’s say you are a freelance designer that does mostly print projects for small businesses – business card redesign and print jobs, conference signage, the occasional web project. How can this designer be a “socially responsible” designer? And what if you are a Director-level designer at a Fortune 500?

Jacqueline: No matter what kind of scale or operation you work for you could look for more responsible and smarter ways to work in terms of energy and resources and striving for more socially and ethically sound practices. You might also look at ways that your company can give back or devote some of its time to charitable causes or pro bono work (of course, many designers often feel like a charity already). It’s not an easy and straightforward thing, especially the costs of doing so (changing processes, adopting more environmentally friendly methods, manufacturing locally…). But how you design is just as important as what you design. The Social Design Network is also a way that designers can talk to and learn from each other on this subject.

NoD: How are designers able to contribute to the fights against disease, poverty, pollution, etc.?

Jacqueline: We did an interview with Jeffrey Sachs, the economist behind the Earth Institute and the United Nations’ Millennium Project (the Millennium Development Goals to greatly reduce poverty by 2015). He talks about how designers can help organization’s like his to create smart and low-cost solutions to a range of “problems” at various scales – through material innovation, new technologies and new approaches. Another way is through communication design. All causes need effective messaging and awareness building to compel and mobilize people to help and designers can help illustrate the relevance, gravity and urgency of a situation through the design and dissemination of words and images that get these messages across.

eco nutrition
“Heated Issue” competition.
3rd prize: Eco Nutrition, by Sam Ho

NoD: What’s in store for the future of Design21? Any big events or initiatives in the works?

Jacqueline: We’re about to launch two big competitions that are centered around the UN Millennium Development Goals. In terms of the website, we’re building a new feature that allows organizations to create what we’re calling Challenges – the ability to create a mini contests or even design charettes. Other than that we have a list of improvements we want to implement on the site, both for our official competition program and the social networking and blogging aspects. The site has really only been going for six months and there’s a lot more we want to flesh out but we don’t have a huge budget so it’s one step at a time!

surface magazine

NoD: Surface Magazine, where you were formerly Design Editor, is beautiful. I pick up Surface, really enjoy looking at its pages and it inspires my professional and personal work, but for most people who do not have design-related careers it seems less practical. Can you give me your opinion on the Lifestyle category of magazines, more specifically the design niche, and make an effort to explain its growth and popularity

Jacqueline: Surface is more concept driven and it definitely is preaching to the converted. I think Dwell – in America at least – is the first magazine to make design seem attainable and practical on a reasonable budget and perhaps the first publication to cross over between industry and general consumer readership because it’s both about high quality design principles, innovative thinking and the DIY ethic – very American I think.

NoD: What magazines or websites do you regularly read?

Jacqueline: I subscribe to GOOD magazine, which is the most interesting newcomer on the American publishing scene, and loosely follow the online sites Treehugger, Inhabitat and Worldchanging as they’re all related sites to DESIGN 21.

NoD: What is the last book that you read?

Jacqueline: In terms of finished, it was Brooklyn Follies by Paul Auster. I live in the neighborhood it’s set in.


Designer and writer Kate Andrews was the original editor of Notes on Design blog, founded in 2007.


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