Forward Thinking in Action

To me, the movers and shakers of the design world are those who have taken the field to places we've never seen before. Here's a small celebration of some of my favorites.

by Felice Silverman, IIDA

Innovation and inspiration are part and parcel of what it means to be an interior designer—we seek both wherever we can find it. The good news is that it’s out there in abundance and easy to find when we keep our eyes and perceptions wide open. The bigger challenge for designers, however, isn’t to be inspired, but to inspire. This is our calling, and when we rise to the occasion, we can use design not only to change the lives around us, but to cause a shift in ways of thinking that can ripple for generations to come.

There are those who bring new and important ideas to design, and when we first see their ideas in action, we immediately know that nothing will be the same again. That feeling has something to do with our innate responsiveness to change; there’s a resonance that travels through the design community when something new comes along, revitalizing us all. It may not even be a design idea itself, but a new way of using design to better the community that captures the imagination of the design-aware public. In my time as a designer, I have been inspired by a number of revolutionary thinkers and organizations whom I think are worth celebrating, and who might provide inspiration to others.

Organizations that provide design services on behalf of social causes, either through pro bono work or the coordibation of community projects, are particularly notable. MASS Design Group, for example, has received much attention and many accolades for its problem-solving approach, which uses design and architecture to develop healthcare and other projects in recovery regions like Rwanda and Haiti. The organization is based here in Boston, but sets up teams on the ground in the areas it serves, working with the local community, whom they train and hire as builders.

On the domestic front, as we saw in this publication a couple of months ago (“Pro Pro Bono,” September 2013), Public Architecture has made an impact through the establishment of a program that creates partnerships between design firms and groups in need of design services. Again, the benefits are multiple—first and foremost, the nonprofit enhances the community through its work, but it also raises awareness about the importance of design through these projects. That is a never-to-be-underestimated dividend as we work to spread the word about the possibilities and benefits of design.

When it comes to individual design talents, Janine Benyus is a great example of a designer who provokes me to think in ways I otherwise might not have. Her work in the field of biomimicry, which involves the studying and mimicking of nature in an effort to arrive at truly sustainable design solutions, has captured the imagination of designers and the public alike. Benyus seeks to create products and processes that suggest ways of living in greater harmony with the natural world around us, such as solar cells inspired by the humble leaf. What’s encouraging is that her ideas have pollinated and taken root, first with a PBS-broadcast film based on her work called Second Nature: The Biomimicry Evolution, and now with educational seminars taking place from San Diego to Montreal. (Learn more about these opportunities at

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