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What Design Can Do uses creativity for good

Updated: Oct 6, 2020

Inspiration is contagious

We all know something has to be done. Every day we wake up, watch the news and feel frustrated. We wish we could do something to help but that fear of your actions not having any real impact is paralysing sometimes.

Before I became a designer, I studied sustainability. I quickly realised that when we are presented with a million options and unintended consequences, it leaves most of us feeling powerless and it stops us from actually taking action.

Creatives have a special skill. We can create something so engaging, exciting and innovative that people around us jump in to action and start coming up with their on ideas. Simply put, inspiration is contagious.

What Design Can Do works with the United Nations and believes that global problems require collaboration. Every year they set challenges around our most difficult problems and ask for creatives around the world to come up with solutions. What makes this organisation so powerful is that they don't stop at ideas - the best solutions get to part take in an incubator to make their ideas viable businesses that help solve real problems.

To get our creativity going, we will look at 5 different projects that all used design thinking and creativity to tackle our biggest global problems.


  • Food security with roof top gardens

  • The Waste transformer

  • Using plastic waste to build homes

  • Using renewable energy as a currency

  • The refugee challenge

Food security with roof top gardens

With more and more people living in urban areas, local and sustainable food is becoming an increasingly pressing issue. Fazenda Urbana created a model to build hydroponic gardens on roof tops right in the city. Hydroponics use water and nutrition instead of soil to grow vegetables and the design can allow for up to 64 types of vegetables right on your door step. Besides providing food security, their vision is also to help urban families learn more about how to live a more sustainable life.

The Waste Transformer

In Nairobi, lack of electricity for refrigeration and infrastructure problems means a lot of food goes to waste. At the same time, the dry soil has led to farmers using a lot of strong imported fertilisers. The Waste Transformer uses the IKEA technique of flat pack assembly to create a pop-up building with solar panels running food refrigeration to prevent food from going bad. They also have a built in vertical garden and a waste composting system that transforms waste in to sustainable fertilisers. The goal is to create a small circular economy around each station.

Using plastic waste to build homes

Plastic waste is becoming a well known issue. In Mexico, Circular Communities for Housing are taking the plastic produced by an area and creating building blocks for new houses. The creative design means each brick made from the molten and compressed plastic can be put together in different ways and there is no need for a binding agent. With homelessness and plastic both being big and growing issues, this solutions tackles both in a new and inspiring way.

Using renewable energy as a currency

Imagine that you could take the bike to work and the energy generated from your ride pays for your morning coffee. This is what Block-e envision. The smart device works as an energy bank that charges as you bike moves. You can then transfer this clean energy to the cafe for them to use towards making the coffee and keeping the space open. The goal with Block-e is to create more sustainable energy while increasing awareness of how much energy we use day to day.

The Refugee challenge

You might have noticed that all the projects so far have been about sustainable energy and food supply. That is because the 2019 challenge is Climate Change. For a peak at the wonderful solutions created by the 2017-2018 refugee challenge and to see what to expect if you want to apply next year, have a look at this wonderful video produced by What Design Can Do. You can also follow them on social media and Youtube for talks and updates on the projects.

I hope you found this super inspiring and that it can help you think of things you want to fix. Please share this with all your passionate creative friends so we can all start creating great solutions.

If you want to collaborate on ideas or just speak to other creatives about day to day work, join our Facebook group. We can't wait to have you!


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