Why Bruce Nussbaum Needs Emily Pilloton

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The recent exchange between Bruce Nussbaum and Emily Pilloton on humanitarian design frustrates me to no end. It reminds me of the age-old duel between the generations, the older one (Nussbaum) with preconceived notions of humanitarian design and cultural imperialism versus the new generation (Pilloton), which is bravely venturing forth to right the world their elders have wronged for so long. While Nussbaum plays into the design community’s (and their followers’) paralyzing cynicism, Pilloton opens up new doors, finds friendships, makes things happen, and uses design as a conversation about place, object, life, usefulness, and human worth.

The exchange, starting with Nussbaum’s reasoned but misinformed volley, accusing humanitarian designers of taking on the old “white man’s burden” of the 19th century, is symptomatic of what I hate about the blogosphere, including some of my own postings: hyped-up, uncooked ideas, released to an audience prepared to lash out from behind its computer screens and eager to link their rants with others. Luckily, in this case, Pilloton sets things straight by responding with corrective facts, unassailable personal experience, real-world projects, and a willingness to stand up for her profession as well as those who need designers’ help desperately. I hope you read these articles together and form your reasoned conclusions about the noble directions a new generation of designers are taking.

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Related: At this year’s ICFF, we caught up with Pilloton on the last stop of her Design Revolution Road Show. Click here to read more about her book, Design Revolution: 100 Products That Empower People. Or click here to read all our humanitarian design–related blog posts.

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