Design by Village

Innovation & Entrepreneurship

Who knew that that old adage, “it takes a village” to be so darned true? I am encountering this over and over in my work and personal life, regardless of the size of endeavor. Now that I am a convert, I see a village everywhere I look. Need help? Ask your community. Have too much? Give it to your neighbor. See a problem. Collaborate with others to find a solution.

The Minneapolis College of Art and Design’s Sustainable Design program is going to apply this adage to a new course that will launch this fall. It’s called Collaborative Product Design and we’ll do just that: collaborate on solutions to create and improve designs that are more socially-just, work to alleviate poverty, are intentionally designed for disassembly, are cost-effective, and safe. This may not seem like a wild idea but this is a challenging piece of work even when people are face-to-face and are experts in the field (engineers working with engineers, for example).

When the village goes global

The twist is we’ll be throwing a couple of significant monkey wrenches into the already complicated collaboration recipe. We’ll form teams of experts that cross disciplines, cultures, ages, and time zones. Oh, and the kicker, this is all going to take place 100% online. The collaborators will likely never meet each other face-to-face. Instead they’ll gather online when it works best for the team, be it dawn, dusk, or somewhere in between. Even scheduling the meetings will take collaboration skills!

Luckily, we have a master of collaborative design at the helm: Jeremy Faludi, Stanford engineer and sustainability consultant. Jeremy is most well-known for his contributions to Worldchanging 2.0: A User’s Guide to the 21st Century, the Autodesk Sustainability Workshop video series (check out the video below), and his beta-version of The Biomimicry Institute’s AskNature database of bio-inspired design solutions. He will be teaching this 15-week course beginning August 29. (There are still a few spaces and time left to register.)

The village, people

You’re likely wondering, why torture these poor souls? Because this is the way we believe that global design will be done in the not-so-distant future and time’s a wasting, as they say. This training is an investment for the future. For today, for tomorrow, for 20 years from now, for all of us. Call it struggle with a purpose. Why? Because no global challenge can be solved in isolation, by one person, by one expert, in one place. Because no effective global solution can be applied without a person on the ground, in the actual place the solution will be applied. Global challenges have a context, therefore global solutions require context. The students will learn how to become part of the village that the problem exists within and the village where the solution will thrive and survive.

The village, people, is the context that we need to begin thinking about and working with. Once we surrender to the fact we actually all depend on one another and let go of the idea that we can go it alone, we begin to realize that our actions are interconnected as all of the global resources that we depend upon. Basically, what I do (or don’t do) ultimately impacts others’ ability to live happily, sustainability, healthily, etc. Not just my neighbor’s life, or the lives of my friends and family, but everyone’s life in someway. I live not only in a local village but a global one.

If we can learn how to truly collaborate – to work together for a common, intentional purpose – and appreciate the importance of doing so, I believe that we’ll eventually no longer need the words “sustainable” or “good” in front of “design”. Designs that are sustainable will become commonplace and emerge from being, caring, helping, doing, and designing as a village.

Thank you, global village.

I am certainly feeling, seeing, and hearing the efforts of my global village through my Ride the Talk campaign. Already over 40 people from around the world -Canada, the USA, India, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Malaysia- have contributed to my campaign to raise funds for need-based sustainable design scholarships. I am delighted and overwhelmed by the growing support and momentum for my pending 1000 mile bicycle trip from Montana to Minnesota that will begin in a few weeks. In my effort to individually “ride the talk” of sustainability, I have discovered that I couldn’t and wouldn’t want to do this without my village: the countless people that have donated gear, contributed funds to the scholarship campaign, and are cheering me on (and I haven’t even hit the road yet!). Thank you again, village!

To discover more about my trip and my village, check out:

Campaign Update:


Only 3 weeks in and already 40 amazing people have helped to raise nearly $2000 for scholarships!


Backcountry Boiler: Pittsburg, PA

Bike Doctor: Missoula, MT

Bike Fixtation: Minneapolis, MN

Good Food Store: Missoula, MT

Hellgate Cyclery: Missoula, MT

Mike McDonald: Corvallis, OR

Nice Ride: Minneapolis, MN

Pacific Outdoor Equipment: Bozeman, MT

Spiral hands image courtesy of @Raul de Villafranca.