Public Interest Design- More Than a Phrase


Public Interest Design Practice Guidebook (article, The State of Public Interest Design; written by Bryan Bell), “Public interest design is not just a term to be freely used by anyone to describe anything remotely related. It is a profession, and the practitioners need to be held accountable.” (P. 16).

If the practice of public interest design is to be successful there must be some sort of understanding on the standards and practices of what public interest design is, as well as, a method to measure the success of public interest design. If public interest design does not have a method in place to measure success people will inevitably abuse the practice in the name of public interest design. A measurable system will provide metrics for both practitioners and the public in order to determine if certain criteria is being met and therefore help to eliminate abuse. Bell suggested that the mission of public interest design should be that, “every person should be able to live in a socially, economically, and environmentally healthy community.” (P. 13). Furthermore, principles for public interest design should be established, which will help to define the practice and ensure that it is in line with the mission. Bell outlined the following five key principles for public interest design (P. 14):

  • Principle 1: Advocate with those who have a limited voice in public life.
  • Principle 2: Build structures for inclusion that engage stakeholders and allow communities to make decisions.
  • Principle 3: Promote social equality through discourse that reflects a range of values and social identities.
  • Principle 4: Generate ideas that grow from place and build local capacity.
  • Principle 5: Design to help conserve resources and minimize waste.

The order, wording, and arrangement of the principles may vary from person to person, however, the one constant should be that public interest design should have a measurable method in place. The metrics used to measure the success for public interest design should prove that it is meeting certain criteria, at a minimum, and that it is truly designing to serve 100 percent of the population. Bell stated, “that designers have only been serving the very few, [which] symbolizes how much work we still need to do before we can use design to address the most critical challenges we face in the world.” (P. 11).


Public interest design is a call to action to join forces and collaborate efforts in order to (Bell) “become permanent and effect systemic change. This work must resonate at a deep cultural level.” (P. 12). Bell, “we need to move past catchy names and rallying cries into a deeper understanding of how this potential can be fulfilled.” (P. 11).

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