December 3, 2010

Project H Design

About the Exhibition

Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum
2 East 91st Street, NY, NY.
On view through January 9, 2011.

Emily Pilloton on \"The Colbert Report\", January 18, 2010

Last week, I wrote about the Design Triennial exhibition at the Cooper Hewitt in NYC.   The fourth in a series of design exhibitions, it presents some of the most innovative designs at the center of contemporary culture.  The projects on display in this triennial program explore the work of designers addressing human and environmental problems across many disciplines;  from architecture and products, to fashion, graphics, new media and landscapes.

One of the designers on exhibit is Emily Pilloton.  Emily and her colleagues are changing the world, one design problem at a time.  Whether across the globe, or in her adopted home town of Bertie County, North Carolina,  the work of Project H design is inspiring and educating using a Design Thinking process.   I have been following the work of Emily Pilloton for some time. This is not only innovative thinking. These projects are impacting people just like you and I, all around the world.  A true testament to the power of design to change lives.

The mission of her organization is to design initiatives  for Humanity, Habitats, Health, and Happiness. Project H uses the power of the design process to catalyze communities and public education from within.

Within all of Project H's initiatives, they work with a few values in mind. Here are the six tenets that inform the design process:

1) There is no design without (critical) action. We are not a social club, nor do we host green drinks events. We do projects that exist in the real world, that have partners, impact, and results. We work as a team, rather than for individual glory.

2) We design WITH, not FOR. We work with partners, not for clients. We bring end users to the table from day one, making them fellow designers. We co-create with unexpected partners, and listen/learn first about social issues we may not fully understand.

3) We document, share, and measure. We record all work as a means to measure qualitatively and quantitatively, and ask for feedback as a means to constantly improve. Our designs are never "done." We share practices between project teams so that we never have to start from zero.

4) We start locally, and scale globally. Our projects are local responses to global problems, and are designed to serve as models for broader application. We look first to our own back yards, with the ultimate goal of scaling and improving products as systems that can work anywhere.

5) We design systems, not stuff. We create solutions and systems that are not driven by material or consumption. We "take the product out of product design" to question the traditional models, and design solutions that enable something greater than the object itself: enterprises, impact, etc.

6) We build. We get dirty. We tweak and prototype and test and bend. We know how to work in a woodshop, and how to weld, mill, and machine. We believe that knowing how things are built makes you a better designer, and that understanding the design process makes you a better builder. We make sure our ideas come to life.

Our specific focus is the re-thinking of environments, products, experiences, and curricula for K-12 education institutions in the US, including design/build Studio H high school program in the Bertie County School District, North Carolina.


One of the projects highlighted in the Cooper Hewitt exhibition is the Learning Landscape.

Learning Landscape is a scalable, grid-based playground system for elementary math education. The spatial grid is intended to combine active movement and competition with mathematic curricula, providing an outdoor classroom framework for fun and engaged learning. Because math is universal, Learning Landscape can be adapted for use in any country and can be tailored to a range of skill levels.

The designers conceived of various math-based games to be played within a square grid, which can be built in a 4 x 4 or 5 x 5 configuration based on the number of students and space constraints.

For the pilot installation at the Kutamba School for AIDS Orphans in Uganda, a 16-point grid was constructed using reclaimed tires arranged inside a large sand box. The tires mark points on the grid, and during game play, numbers can be written directly on them with chalk. (The tires can also be used as outdoor classroom space when coupled with an integrated bench system.)

The games, including Match Me, Math Musical Chairs, Math Around The World, and more, teach concepts including addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, as well as spatial and logical reasoning through individual and team-based competition. Because of the system’s flexibility, teachers and students are encouraged to invent their own games as well.

I first learned about Emily's great work while looking at video from the 2010 Ted Conference. I invite you to listen to her talk.  It reminds me of the power of the individual to impact the world and those around us.  Thank you, Emily.

To learn more about Project H Design, please visit:  Project H Design (

All photography and Studio H excerpts provided by and Project H Design’s Photostream at



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