finding a job in sustainable design or a role in design activism

It’s the time of year when I start getting asked frequently about how to find a job in sustainable design–or a related question, where you can find a role as a design activist.


working with a purpose

Obviously there are no easy answers to these questions, but I have written a few relatively “timeless” posts on these challenges. In the past I’ve outlined two main strategies that involve, broadly, converting a conventional design job into a sustainable design job, (I covered this in two posts here and here) or converting a conventional sustainable development job into a sustainable design job (I covered that here).

I think these two broad strategies apply to the question of finding a role as a design activist as well. In other words, you can try to take a conventional design job and make room for more activist work, or you can go for a more traditional activist job (such as community organizer or environmental advocate) and work your design skills in to it.

In terms of how you might bend an existing, conventional design job into one that allows more time for activist work, perhaps in a pro bono context, I’ve profiled a few organizations that attempt to match design service providers (pro bono or reduced rate) with clients in need, so this might be a starting point for convincing an employer that there are worthy local projects. One of these organizations, The 1% also offers guidance and rules of thumb for pro bono work from an architecture perspective.

Given the recent economic climate, another consideration besides simply “providing services” might be “providing skills” through the design process, something I wrote about in my post “unemployment.”

I wish I could say that finding this kind of job isn’t that hard to do, but it is. It requires persistence, patience and a whole lot of strategy. Estimates are that it can take 9 months to a year to find the right job, and finding the right job can be like a full time job in itself. You also have to pay attention to all conventional job search requirements, so I recommend using a job hunting guidebook or advice service as well, so that you can adapt those job finding strategies to your particular search. I wish all sustainable design and design activist job seekers the best of luck. If you have any good stories about finding or creating these kinds of jobs, please do share them.

3 Responses to finding a job in sustainable design or a role in design activism

  1. Per Östling says:

    Well……we could start a Development Office project together an by doing so you can give up to 10 people times x…a positive answer on the question..:-)
    Per Östling

  2. Ann Thorpe says:

    Hi Per,
    yes, it’s a good idea to mention that designers can start their own organizations, either on their own or with others. Obviously this entails risk and it is not an easy path–indeed it requires a well focused plan (as much or more so than a business)–but it can be transformative. [don’t you already have a development office in Sweden?!]

    I guess another path I didn’t mention was the academic one. Designers can continue on an academic path and take up teaching and research which generally allows for a much wider range of exploration, project work and educational activities.

    thanks for you comments,

  3. Andrew Nawroski says:

    If the design is ethical it therefore becomes sustainable, if it to be activist then it brings about change, ‘making it an activist statement’.
    Within design it is difficult for the designer to do this – but easy for the artist who works with change and is not a designer but a creator.
    Is the designer trying to be the artist here, or blindly trying to be a thorn inside the artist or potentially an anarchist.

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