In January 2008, Emily Pilloton founded Project H Design in an effort to "turn criticism into action" by connecting socially minded designers with the communities in need of their creations. The designer and former Inhabitat managing editor published Design Revolution: 100 Products that Empower People in September 2009 and is now hitting the road in a renovated Airstream outfitted with a traveling exhibition of products featured in the book.
Over the course of 75 days, Pilloton will cross the country (a feat she has accomplished many times before--"I love being a nomad," she says) and make 25 stops to put the exhibition on display and conduct lectures and workshops. "The events will be really casual grassroots opportunities for young designers-—and educators-—to gather around great examples of humanitarian design and to collectively chip away at how we can all play a part in designing for the greater good," she says. "The events are accessible—-anyone can come-—and we aren't there to preach but rather to spark something at every stop that hopefully remains beyond our passing through." Plus, she adds, "the Airstream is just awesome" and they're giving away free stickers.
The tour begins February 1 in Larkspur, California, but there'll be a fantastic preview fundraiser event on January 30 at the Stable Cafe in San Francisco. Tickets cost $75 (and include food, drinks, and a raffle entry) and can be purchased here. The official kick-off party (featuring the Airstream plus taco, pizza, and cupcake trucks) will be on February 4 at the Academy of Art University, also in San Francisco, and a reception at the Art Center, in Pasadena, California, on February 8.
View the slideshow to see images of the Airstream during the renovation, the exhibition preparation process, and the completed tour-mobile, and read on below for an interview with Pilloton, including her thoughts on the best ways design can make a difference--"Design is about people, not products"--and expectations for life on the road--"It will be like our own reality TV show, a combination of Survivor and The Simple Life.
The Design Revolution Road Show is a book tour, traveling exhibition, and lecture series on the go. How did this all come together?
It began as something of a joke, a crazy idea where my partner, Matthew Miller, and I realized we live and run Project H in an Airstream and thought: "Wouldn't it be a great book tour if we just loaded a bunch of humanitarian products in the Airstream and drove around the country?”
When my book was published, I knew I wanted to spread the word in a non-traditional way, not in the usual signings-at-a-bookstore kind of deal. The book itself speaks to a certain grassroots movement, and I wanted its promotion to reflect that—-to literally take some of these amazing products featured in the book to the doorsteps of the next generation of designers. Soon it went from "driving around the country in an Airstream" to a 30-plus high-school and college tour with a mobile exhibition and lecture and workshop series. The goal is to inspire design for social impact, but also to be critical about the ways to go about it.
Why do you think that design can make a difference?
Design is a sensibility and a process that uses empathy and non-linear thinking to produce solutions that no other field of expertise can offer. There's something intangible about design that is one part curating process and one part constant production that tends to shine the light on issues that we may not otherwise see. I think that when it comes to design making a difference-—a real and lasting difference in people's lives—-the design process is uniquely attuned to responding to human needs and social issues. Design is about people, not products.
What do you think is the most successful example of this?
There are many but I think the most successful design interventions are the ones that are deeply local and pervasive. We see a lot of designers and design groups working widely on dozens of projects all over the place. (Up until now, Project H has worked this way; we're in the process of moving operations to rural North Carolina to partner with a public school district for three to five years.) And yet, the projects that stay put and go deep into a community, become engaged, and have a stake in a collective future are the ones that really have exponential impact. Examples like Maya Pedal (an enterprise in Guatemala that turns bike parts into pedal-powered gadgets) or some of the creative capital in Hale County (Rural Studio, HERO (Hale Empowerment and Revitalization Organization), Project M), are great examples of focused design interventions that don't spread themselves too thin in a sort of scatter-shot acupuncture.
You completed gutted and renovated your vintage Airstream for this tour. What was that like? Had you ever done a renovation like this before?
My partner, Matthew, has owned the Airstream for almost ten years and did the original "gutting" a few years back. This year, we refinished the entire interior, replacing aluminum panels, building new walls, ripping out old ones, and building "closets" for ourselves that only hold a few milk crates. The transformation has been amazing, partially because we have been living and working out of the Airstream while doing the renovation. We've been faced with the intricacies of the process every day. Before we go to bed, Matt will say, "You know, we should move that wall four inches to the left." I love working with my hands and really diving into the process of transforming something into a totally new thing. Plus, it's always fun to have power tools around.
Have you driven across the country before?
Way too many times-—at least five, if not ten. But I love being a nomad. It forces you to always respond to new things and to never get too comfortable.
What are you most looking forward to about the Design Revolution Road Show?
I am incredibly excited about our high school stops, which we initially hadn't planned on. We added them for a few reasons: When we end up in rural North Carolina, we'll be teaching a design-build program in the high school there, so on a personal level I'm interested in gauging how design can inspire teenagers. But I also believe that design is a capacity that most high schoolers don't consider as a skill. It falls into the "arty" category and isn't used as a creative problem-solving process. We'd really like to push that and make the case that design isn't an arty career but a really unique way of approaching problems.
Of course, I'm also excited about staying in a different RV park every night and not having a kitchen or bathroom in the Airstream. I'm not being sarcastic; it will be like our own reality TV show, a combination of Survivor and The Simple Life.
Why should people come out to the events?
Without beating around the bush, the Airstream is just awesome. The exhibition turned out really great, the products are fascinating, and the trailer has a big pink stripe that you can't not look at. Beyond the exhibition experience though, the events will be really casual grassroots opportunities for young designers-—and educators-—to gather around great examples of humanitarian design and to collectively chip away at how we can all play a part in designing for the greater good. The events are accessible—-anyone can come-—and we aren't there to preach but rather to spark something at every stop that hopefully remains beyond our passing through. We are also giving away free stickers!