Design schools as agents of change. Design schools are, first and foremost, places where the next generation of design experts are educated. This fundamental educational role can be considered as an investment in the future: if we want to build a better future, we have to ensure that its constructors are well prepared and suitably equipped, thereby, in this case, producing competent designers. Design schools, in their work to build a better future, now have the potential to play a second important role as agents of sustainable change. In other words, to behave as critical and creative actors in today’s context, i.e. the ongoing social and environmental transition phase we happen to be living in.
It is important to note that this second role (agents of change) largely reinforces the first (to educate future generations of designers). As the world continues to undergo fundamental changes, the most effective way to prepare the (competent) designers of the future is to involve students in problems, opportunities and design methods that, today, appear radically new. Thanks to this involvement, students have the potential to play a meaningful role in contemporary society (developing projects and creating critical knowledge) while simultaneously equipping themselves to be the leading designers of the future (a time when the problems, opportunities and design modalities that are emerging today will have become the new standards).
It is this double role of the design schools that the DESIS Network intends to support, with a particular focus on the broad field of design for social innovation towards sustainability.
DESIS Lab activities: an overview. In the past ten years, the 48 DESIS Labs, representing the nodes of the DESIS Network, have set up and participated in a large number of social innovation-related projects. Looking at these initiatives, it is clear that they take place in different areas of application and adopt different tools and strategies; some of them are visible on the DESIS Network website, while others have been presented at different DESIS events. However, until now, DESIS had conducted no general overviews on the Labs’ projects, which meant that they had not been mapped and there had been no observation or discussion of the emerging themes.
This work now has been done, and we finally have a map of the DESIS Labs’ completed and ongoing work. We acknowledge that this first map is not perfect; it can and will be improved. Nevertheless, it permits us to take a big step forward in understanding what the DESIS Labs do and, on this basis, what the DESIS Network is.
The map clearly shows that several Labs projects are converging in two main areas, and from this observation, we decided to create two dedicated (digital) spaces, called the DESIS Thematic Areas: