24 Clever Examples of Design Activism

A new exhibit in Tokyo explores the work of designers tackling social problems from climate change to drone warfare.

An exhibition in Tokyo is putting activist design on center stage. “The Fab Mind: Hints of the Future in a Shifting World” explores clever and radical designs for the problems facing the modern world: mountains of trash, treacherous terrain filled with unexploded land mines, drone surveillance, rising seas, an overwhelming overabundance of information.


The exhibition’s organizers, design journalist Noriko Kawakami and curator Ikko Yokoyama, say the focus is to understand and resolve social issues through design, “without limiting themselves to creating only tangible design products.”

It looks at such activism through the lens of 24 art and design collectives from 10 countries, ranging from the Fixperts, a network of designers who use their skills to solve everyday problems (while filming the results) to London-based designer interaction designer Yosuke Ushigome, whose project “Professional Sharing,” questions the ubiquity and benefit of the sharing economy. The participants span the spectrum of design disciplines, from product design to graphic design to fashion and textiles to visual artists.

There’s Dutch artist and designer Christien Meindertsma’s project “Wandschappen Sweaters by Loes,” in which the designer took 500 sweaters, knitted by one woman over the course of half a century but never worn, and filmed a flashmob of people wearing them for the first time.

Or there’s visual artist Douglas Coupland’s hand-painted “Slogans for the Twenty-First Century,” sly graphic aphorisms for the Internet age (samples include “Continue Watching?” and “I Miss My Pre-Internet Brain”).

Meanwhile, other designers featured take on broader concerns about major world issues. Mine Kafon, by Afghan-born product designer Massoud Hassani, is a cost-efficient design created to trip land mines. The wind-powered device, resembling a giant toy, detonates land mines as it rolls across them, and costs only $60.

These projects, in the words of the exhibition curators, “are bound to bring about a new understanding of the future role of design; one that takes it beyond the boundaries of product manufacture.”


“The Fab Mind” runs until February 1, 2015 at 21_21 Design Sight in Tokyo.

[H/T: The New York Times]


About the author

Shaunacy Ferro is a Brooklyn-based writer covering architecture, urban design and the sciences. She's on a lifelong quest for the perfect donut.