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Emily Pilloton: Teaching Design for Change

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Designer Emily Pilloton moved to rural Bertie County, in North Carolina, to engage in a bold experiment of design-led community transformation. She's teaching a design-build class called Studio H that engages high schoolers' minds and bodies while bringing smart design and new opportunities to the poorest county in the state.

As a young designer, Emily Pilloton was frustrated by the design world's scarcity of meaningful work. Even environmentally-conscious design was not enough. "At graduate school, people were starting to talk more about sustainability, but I felt it lacked a human factor," she said. "Can we really call $5,000 bamboo coffee tables sustainable?" Convinced of the power of design to change the world, at age 26 Pilloton founded Project H to help develop effective design solutions for people who need it most.

Her book Design Revolution features products like the Hippo Water Roller, a rolling barrel with handle that eases water transport; AdSpecs, adjustable liquid-filled eyeglasses; and Learning Landscapes, low-cost playgrounds that mesh math skills and physical activity.

In February 2009, Pilloton and her Project H partner Matthew Miller began working in Bertie County, North Carolina, the poorest and most rural county in the state, to develop a design-build curriculum for high-school kids, called Studio H. In August 2010 they began teaching their first class of 13 students. Read about their experiences in Design Mind.