socially conscious design

Dos’ and Dont’s of socially conscious design by Cansu Akarsu

- Socialize with the culture you are designing for 
- Get your hands dirty; prototype
- Document each step of the design process 
- Bring in multiple prototypes to get comparative feedback

- Get defensive about your idea. When asking for feedback from users, designers should not defend the idea they have presented, but be open to as much critical feedback as possible.

KEY KEY Designing for Humanity Final Project 

KEY KEY is an educational tool that serves the needs of primary school teachers in Ghana with limited access to teaching resources. This tool will help teachers to keep students engaged and excited about learning, while providing the encouragement and a thirst for knowledge vital to the pursuit of further education, future success and lifelong learning. 

The resources are provided for free distribution here

The goal of this project was to design something addressing a need in a global scope. With the sole constraints being that it was made of locally available materials, it helped at least one person, it was socially significant, and based on real need

Early in the design process I got caught up on the issue of e-waste in Ghana and when my group members (Karl Friesen & Sandra Manrique) and I put our ideas together, I pulled them down the rabbit hole with me. The entire issue of E-Waste seemed too big to take on in a single sweeping blow, but we soon realized that it could be an asset to us.

Looking at primary school ages kids in Ghana we recognized that they were likely to fall into three categories; those whose families could readily afford school and the costs that come with it, those who could not afford it and instead worked to contribute to the household, and then the largest group made up of students whose families struggle to make ends meet while providing an education for their children.

Once again the most obvious and glaring issue was the students who weren’t in school, but addressing this would mean tackling the complex and immeasurable issue of poverty. 

Instead we focused on the largest group, whose parents make sacrifices every day to keep them in school. How could we keep them from leaving school and joining the working children? It was determined that a likely cause of a parent pulling their child from school was a lack of engagement. If he or she just wasn’t ‘getting it’ or showing an interest in learning, than they would better contribute by working, freeing up money for other expenses or another child’s education. This problem is made worse by the fact that many parents grew up before the education systems reform in Ghana, so they have a harder time seeing the potential value of an education - ‘I started working when I was your age and so you should too’ is all too common of a sentiment. 

This free tool for teachers helps to engage, educate and inspire students. It’s inexpensive and constructed of available materials, so students can take them home or build their own for next to nothing. The gamification of critical thinking and language skills provides a fun learning experience. The casual, stress-free atmosphere in which the game is played allows the teachers to accurately assess students. 

The simple letter cubes form the basic building blocks of a simple game - spelling words from the letters rolled on the dice. From here the teacher moderating the game can introduce new rules to keep the game challenging and engaging. Some examples include:

  • setting targets (length of word/number of words/ types of words)
  • limits (time/ number of dice)
  • conditions (as a group, teams, or individual/ physically arranging letters, shouting words, or writing quietly)

With our vision clouded by the idea of using keyboard keys from the Agbogbloshie E-Waste dump (where many drop-outs end up inhaling toxins while salvaging precious metals) it occurred to us that a very similar game could be made without the keys. After creating a quick cardboard and ink prototype we concluded that this version lacked the intrigue and tactile feel of the keyed cubes, though the overall objectives and outcomes could still be realized where access to keys is a challenge. 

The game helps teachers to realize the overall goals of education. By adding an element of excitement they can change struggling children’s attitudes and inspire new approaches to learning, instilling a determination to continue in the pursuit of education.

I think we succeeded in creating a modern tool for teachers who lack resources, stretching available assets to improve what we are beginning to see as an archaic and outdated education system.



a scale or a series of successive changes, stages, or degrees.



the state of being united of joined as a whole

The principles of proportion and segmentation applied to a simple form. The shape illustrates a disconnect between a sides organic curvature and the flat face of the other. The gradual slope and segmentation pay heed to the Golden Ratio without being so telling on the surface. The finish magnifies the creators faults of the surface and takes a stance against the unattainable ideal of perfection.

This was my submission for our Form Exploration project. After submitting the initial concept it was decidedly ‘too functional’ and as abstract forms make me uncomfortable I kept pushing and focused in on one shape from that form, then applied some thematic elements to it as the assignment required.

I was pretty happy with the finish but wish I’d allowed myself more time to experiment with the epoxy, it took way more sanding than it should have. It was my first time using the stuff, and a new technique for me on polystyrene foam. The problem I created for myself was ambitiously adding too much micro-balloon to thicken it to an icing like consistency, which was impossible to apply smoothly. I caked it on like an ugly cupcake and left it to dry overnight. When I returned by the AM it looked like rough stucco and I spent the rest of the day sanding. It served my misinformed expertise right (damn you, tube), and next time I’ll allow more time and less pressumption for experimentation.  If I could change one thing I might try for some sharper edges on the cut section, and that might give me an opportunity to colour block it more like my sketches.

'Full Cord' iPhone cable organizer polymer clay & elastic

The problem of cluttered cords is nothing new, but the problem of being unable to go without a charge is. The Full Cord takes us back to a simpler time, when the only cord you worried about was the one you were chopping. This simple token of our remaining backwoods reminds us that we need to unplug every once in a while, and sometimes we need a charge.

This project was to create a solution around the problems of cord clutter. Fairly late in my exploration I started to think about the broader issues of electronics in our lives and after exploring countless ‘forms for form’s sake’ I settled on a familiar silhouette that would challenge the user to think about the beauty of the world all around their phone, and urging them to let the battery sit empty a while longer.