Gimmicky Products Won’t Solve the Refugee Crisis

Gimmicky Products Won’t Solve the Refugee Crisis

Words Tori West

"Don't design yet another shelter" for refugees, say experts

Can design save the world? Well, it depends on the proposal and what you’re trying to save. Designers have the power to shift, alter and change not only our opinions, but they can ultimately modify our lifestyle. But with great power, comes great responsibility.

During Dutch Design Week, in a panel discussion hosted by design platform Dezeen, humanitarian expert Kilian Kleinschmidt opened up one of the most significant challenges human beings currently face: the refugee crisis. “Don’t design yet another shelter for refugees,” he said. “They’re not a species. So, there is no need for tech for refugees. Or design for refugees, or architecture for refugees.”

Kilian Kleinschmidt, Rene Boer and architecture historian Michelle Provoost joined Dezeen editor-in-chief Marcus Fairs for a talk about the role design can play in the refugee crisis

Although some proposals may seem helpful, you can’t help but think that micro-designs for refugees are made just to attract attention, rather than provide a legitimate resolution to the problem. At least that’s what architecture critic Rene Boer thinks. He emphasises how backpacks made from life jackets aren’t helpful, and instead, designers should focus on removing the physical and non-physical barriers that prevent refugees from travelling and integrating. “How can we un-design some structures or systems that are actually making things worse for refugees?”

The panel discussion was part of the publication’s Good Design for a Bad World series. Aiming to understand how architecture and design could tackle issues arising from human displacement. Throughout the discussion, speakers called for more intelligent answers and fewer token gestures. According to Kleinschmidt, “over 6,000 apps had been created to help refugees navigate, find help, learn languages and so on”. But in reality, none of them are widely used or of significant help.

Footage of all of the talks are available to watch in full via Good Design for a Bad World, an edited version of the climate-change talk is also available.

Header image with thanks to the UNHCR