Omar Hakeem / buildingcommunityWORKSHOP / Design Director / 03.19.18

Where is design going?

Design is on the way up!..but maybe a little too slowly. I see what we value as designers expanding rapidly, people are recognizing the capacity for design to improve social conditions and have begun to value design that does so. As this value set continues to grow, the process and outcomes of design are only going to get better. Whats not expanding enough are the opportunities for designers (young and old) to put their passion into action. Most firms are content to service the small sector of people that can afford their services and keep to their tried and true client base.


There are a few indicators that the larger practice is adopting this expanded perspective like the award of the 2016’s Pritzker Prize and the adoption of some social indicators in building evaluation, however, these steps only scratch the surface of what we need design to do.


A more hopeful place to look is schools. I can’t say if it’s driven by the students, the professors or the larger university system, but design schools are starting to ask their students to consider more and more complex challenges, what we need to do as a practice is support these emerging designers to tackle these challenges.

How can design education be more relevant?

One way and I think there are many, is to support students in knowing where to look outside of their practice areas for those doing work that also supports the same goals and outcomes they seek to resolve through their work. A design student needs to know what a public health practitioner does, how community organizing works, and what civil rights legislation affects the built environment so when they get out of school, they can bring these disparate fields into their work and start to solve these large systemic problems creatively, holistically, and in a way that inspires people to tackle the next challenge.

What are the future skillsets designers need to learn now?

First things first, I always look for designers with crystal clear perspective on where they sit in terms of privilege, and ideally how the larger systems at play maintain poverty, segregation, etc. I’ve always found that this instills a drive in people to work hard, as well as a respect for those working in oppressed communities to make change.

What should a design school do to prepare students for transdisciplinary work?

So part of it is just teaching students to ask the question: Who else needs to be involved to really solve this challenge holistically? That is the easier part. Then the second question would be: How can this team bring long-lasting change? How does one pay for it, (in order to start) and how do we make sure it sticks? i.e. if designing a bike trail, who do I need to partner with in designing it to make sure I’m addressing the diabetes epidemic in our country and how does the design (process + outcomes) support a long-term culture of health within a community.

What should a design school do to forward equity and inclusion?

Partner with community colleges and other community-based institutions to open tracks to students that might not otherwise have access to state and private universities.

Omar Hakeem


Design Director

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