This was an exciting month for our “Design for Social Change” course. Not only did we have the opportunity to share the topics we have been exploring in a formal exhibition, but the resulting children’s e-books received rave reviews from some very high profile guests.

So what exactly is ‘design for social change’? Often referred to as ‘social design,’ it aims to contribute to—or directly benefit—social, humanitarian, or environmental well-being. Designer and social entrepreneur William Drenttel suggests it is “inherently pragmatic and results-oriented, simultaneously humble and ambitious, and fundamentally optimistic and forward-looking.” Social designers come from varying backgrounds and often work in interdisciplinary teams to address the needs of the diverse community.

Our team-taught interdisciplinary design course (held in Dubai, UAE) examined the use of digital tools to help develop social, humanitarian, and environmental projects in the MENA region. The resulting iPad exhibition explored the use of children’s e-books to educate children on the topic of local resources & conservation in the UAE. Topics ranged from coral reef conservation to environmental disaster, Arabic language conservation, and the importance of educating children about autism. The topics were defined by the design students, who spent the first half of the semester conducting primary and secondary research to better understand their chosen issue.

Students developed a children’s e-book on their local topic as a means to translate their complex research into a well-defined narrative for children. In this regard, students learned to discuss, interpret, and synthesize their findings in order to communicate social responsibility to the next generation.

Student developed packaging materials and give-aways for the exhibition as a way to engage visitors in the topic after leaving the presentation space.

Following the exhibition, the Jumaira Model School (K-9th grade) formally invited us to participate in an exhibition to share the project “Children storybook exhibition using iPad technology on the topic of local resources and conservation in the UAE” to help support and affect the educational process in the school.

We met with a class or first and third-grade students in the well-equipped multilingual library.

You can’t imagine what a transformative experience the day way. After months of research and preparation… illustration work and publication design for the iPad… the design students joyfully shared their e-books with an eager audience. They read the stories in Arabic and English, observing first-hand the impact their social design topics had on the children.

Not only were the students attentive, engaged, and interested in the topics (providing tons of feedback) – but the school teachers were excited to begin an ongoing collaboration with our burgeoning social designers. Such exciting prospects for the future!

[i] Drenttel, William. Forward In Designing for Social Change: Strategies for Community-based Graphic Design, by Andrew Shea (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2012), 7.