Last Thursday, we were honored to attend the kick off to Project H's Design Revolution Road Show at the Academy of Art University. Not only were we able to peruse the Airstream-turned-exhibition and the forty humanitarian design solutions it displays (pictured above), but we also were able to sit down and talk with Project H founder Emily Pilloton about designing with a conscience and her decisions to start a non profit, live in an Airstream and go on a 6,300 mile road trip.
About four years ago, Emily Pilloton was in a long meeting at her new cushy job as a store designer at a major retail clothing company. As she was watching a heated discussion over the proper door knobs and hinges for the company's dressing rooms, an "A ha!" moment struck. Realizing that she spent years at school building a toolkit to solve "problems that matter," Emily quit her job the next day. She went on to become a Managing Editor for Inhabitat, but after two years decided she was ready to do the work and to start creating "new models for design that matters." In January 2008, Project H Design was born.
Project H Design is a nonprofit geared to connect the power of design to the people who need it most and to the places where it can make a real and lasting difference. In just two short years, it has grown to a coalition of hundreds of designers worldwide working in project teams on 20+ initiatives in 6 countries. Last September, Emily published her first book, Design Revolution: 100 Products That Empower People, a catalog of contemporary design objects that aim to tackle social problems both big and small.
Around the time Emily was publishing the book, she realized that paying more rent than she was bringing in each month wasn't making any sense. At that point, she and her partner, Matt, also remembered that he had an Airstream sitting empty ready for inhabitants. They moved into the Airstream and began squatting on a friend's property in Half Moon Bay with access to his bathroom and kitchen. While having discussions about a book tour, the Design Revolution Road Show started as a joke, but quickly became a cost effective and sustainable (the trailer will be pulled by a biodiesel-powered truck) solution.
Emily and Matt transformed the inside of the Airstream to a gallery space with only 15% of the interior used for their living space. While that sounds hard for some of us to comprehend, Emily admits that in moving from an apartment to the airstream, "there's a therapy in that" as well as a shared victory with Matt. And with access to showers and laundry at local RV parks, the two milk crates that hold their worldly possessions almost becomes bearable. Still, Emily says that once this 2 1/2 month road trip is over, the couple will be taking separate vacations.
Emily decided to bring the Design Revolution Road Show to high schools and colleges to "inspire this next generation." She hopes that giving students the ability to see and touch these products of humanitarian design will be a unique experience from the classroom as they will "be surrounded by really amazing things and not in a gallery."
Emily is clear that her move to create Project H Design and the Design Revolution Road Show was never an act to buck the system, but rather her recognition of what wasn't working for her and what could be done next. And while we aren't all designers or founders of nonprofits or Airstream dwellers, she wants to remind us that we all have the power to make some sort of positive lasting change: "We all have a different skill set and you can apply it to things that matter and you can apply it to things that don't."
Thanks to Emily Pilloton for taking the time to sit down with us!
Read more about the Design Revolution Road Show here. While the tour is hitting up schools around the country, viewing of the Airstream is open to the public. Check out the full itinerary here to see if it is coming to your neck of the woods. The tour wraps up its California tour in Los Angeles and San Juan Capistrano today and then heads next to Austin.
More information about Project H Design is available here. Project H Design is currently in the running to receive $50,000 to launch a design and vocational school in the poorest county in North Carolina as part of Pepsi's Refresh Everything Project. Vote here to help make this proposal a reality.