Weitzman News

Posted November 18, 2016
  • Proactive Practices

A New Platform for Socially Impactful Design

With support from PennPraxis, the consulting arm of PennDesign, alumnus Nick McClintock (M.Arch/MLA’16) and partners Gilad Meron and Mia Scharphie have just launched the Proactive Practices Research Collaborative, a platform for research, publications and workshops that empowers designers to pursue socially impactful work and develop business models that are financially sustainable, filling a critical gap in the design professions.

“All three of us have worked for social impact design firms, and we are constantly being asked by other designers ‘How can I do a design project with a social mission?’,” says McClintock. “We realized that everyone was just talking about the projects themselves without any discussion of how they got done, and we wanted to share how the best in the business find, vet, staff, and fund projects to educate the profession that these can be sustainable businesses as well as serve a social mission.”

In a series of online case studies, Proactive Practices goes “under the hood” of some of the most prominent public interest design practices today, such as IDEO.org, MASS Design Group, and Public Workshop, to capture how they find, fund and execute projects that make social impact, and how they have developed business models to support this work in the long term. Collectively, the case studies document the evolution of a rapidly developing field, particularly the entrepreneurial energy and commitment it takes to shift the design sector towards an impact-based model.

“Until now no one has really looked at these practices beyond just compelling images and heartfelt stories,” says John Peterson, founder of public interest design organization Public Architecture and curator of the Loeb Fellowship at the Harvard Graduate School of Architecture. “This is an important step in the long road of developing a successful social enterprise sector in design of the built environment.”

Following initial funding from PennPraxis, and guidance from faculty adviser Daniel Barber, Assistant Professor of Architecture, Proactive Practices earned funding from the National Endowment of the Arts and praise from the Association for Community Design, Design Futures, A Better World by Design and Impact Design Hub.