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The Design Dialogues site houses all online publications from the School of Design Strategies at Parsons School of Design.

This site is funded by the Stephan Weiss Lecture Series on Business Strategy, Negotiation and Innovation. This lectureship was launched in 2002 to commemorate the life of the late artist and sculptor Stephan Weiss, husband and business partner of the fashion designer Donna Karan. Weiss co-founded Donna Karan International in 1984, and was instrumental in every significant venture the company undertook: launching and structuring new brands, most notably the Donna Karan Beauty company; signing new licenses; establishing in-house legal and creative departments; devising its computer design technology; orchestrating the company’s initial public offering in 1996; and negotiating its sale to the current owner LVMH Moet Hennessy – Louis Vuitton.

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Section 2: Case Studies

"DESIGNED BY" VERSUS "MADE BY": Two Approaches to Design-Based Social Entrepreneurship

Cynthia Lawson
The majority of the world’s designers focus all their efforts on developing products and services exclusively for the richest 10% of the world’s customers. 1

This finding represents a responsibility and an opportunity for individual designers, organizations such as Aid to Artisans, 2 and most recently, universities, to embark on projects through which they may create a positive impact on artisan communities in the areas of design, marketing, and business, with the principal goal of generating income via the sale of artisanal goods. Case studies, such as the Colombian and Indian design and craft projects documented by United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) have demonstrated that design can play “an important role in encouraging environmentally sustainable and economically viable models... of marginalized groups,” 3 positioning it as a process and tool with which to promote social and economic development in underserved communities.

This article discusses “Made by” and “Designed by” approaches to design and social entrepreneurship initiatives in the developing world. The primary focus is an ongoing project that started as a collaboration between the global humanitarian organization CARE and The New School, in which students and faculty have been working with a group of Mayan women in Guatemala—Ajkem’a Loy’a—to help them develop a business model for exporting their handcrafted products to the United States.

"Made by" versus "Designed By"
The book Designers Meet Artisans documents several examples of the positive role design can play in artisan communities. 4 It argues, however, that a community’s engagement with (or through) design is more likely to be sustainable if it is not imposed by an external person (creating a situation of dependency), but instead adopted as part of the artisan’s creative process.
A community’s engagement with design is more likely to be sustainable if it is not imposed by an external person, but instead adopted as part of the artisan’s creative process.

The term “Made by” indicates a practice whereby designs from an industrialized country are executed in a low-wage manufacturing situation in a developing country. 5 This model (adapted to an artisanal context) describes the underlying premise of projects like Cojolyá, an association in Santiago, Guatemala, that “provides weavers with threads and looms, design services, infrastructures, and the development of markets to promote sales.” 6 Here, design is not an intrinsic part of the production process. Instead, it is a service that is given to the weavers by the organization’s designers, who impose (as opposed to collaborate on) designs, albeit ones inspired by the local culture and craft traditions.

In such a scenario, the artisans are limited to the mechanical role of making products by hand. The intended beneficiaries have relatively little input into decisions about what product is made, why it is made, and in what quantities. This model guarantees that what is produced aligns with current market trends and is thus more likely to sell. It is therefore appropriate for initiatives in which the priority is the generation of income and not necessarily education or culture preservation. If the goal is sustainable development, this method suffers from some critical defects: The artisans do not develop their skills beyond the physical, hands-on making of the products; they are not learning about the market or the design industry; the artisans often receive a very small percentage of the profits; and they become dependent on the person or people playing the role of the designer, thereby compromising the self-sustainability of the project. 7

There are two ways to approach the contrasting “Designed by” model. The first is exemplified by groups such as Artesanías de Colombia, 8 which has been able to position originally designed handcrafts as desired products, accessories, and furnishings. In this development model, the design is inherent to the artisans’ traditions; it is not being transformed or adjusted to meet market needs. Instead, the overarching organization works to position these authentic designs as luxury goods through stores around the country, exports, and the internationally-known Colombian fair Expoartesanías. 9 Incorporating local crafts with modern, minimalist furniture design has become the signature trait of Colombian interior designers, who have thus helped create a high-end local market—a rare phenomenon in other countries across Latin America, in which the great majority of craft sales are exported or sold to tourists.

In this first “Designed by” concept, artisans in developing countries are elevated to a new socio-economic position because they play a pivotal role in the design of the products (with the cooperation and advisement of a designer associated with the sponsoring social-entrepreneurial agency). This approach allows artisans to develop their own products and move up the value chain of design, rather than merely subsisting as manufacturers. 10 When they are trained in the necessary skills (e.g., product design and development, business and organizational skills, and quality control), artisans have the opportunity to be creative in developing products that reflect their heritage while still appealing to external markets. The main goal is to increase exposure for the artisans, adding value to what they have produced for generations, in the hope of preserving their culture, heritage and traditional skills.

Figure 1

A Guatemalan artisan participating in one of The New School's student-led design workshop - San Lucas Toliman, Guatemala, summer 2008

The case of Artesanías de Colombia represents an ideal in some respects. However, this model is not necessarily translatable to the context of a country such as Guatemala, in which the traditional techniques (e.g. back strap loom weaving) are of interest, but the designs themselves (e.g., the huipil, a traditional Mayan blouse) do not have sustainable markets. In this case, the “Designed by” model needs to be framed as a process through which the artisans learn to innovate new products by experimenting with their traditional techniques while following design guidelines (in terms of form, color, and quality) in order to create more marketable products (SEE FIGURE 1). This second approach to “Designed by” social entrepreneurship does, however, retain the overarching goal of helping artisans design their own products and move up the value chain of designers. 11 This approach to design-based sustainable development, moreover, can include “Marketed by” and “Managed by” components, in which artisans are trained in the skills and procedures of product design and development, business and organizational management, and quality control. This raises the likelihood of sustainable, income-generating success through the sale of the artisans’ goods.

The New School Collaborates
The Design for the Other 90% exhibition website states that, “Of the world’s total population of 6.5 billion ... 90% have little or no access to most 
of the products and services many of us take for granted.” 12 Motivated by this statistic, educational institutions have begun engaging students in collaborations aimed at reducing this “design divide.” There has been much engagement from the disciplines in the social sciences, particularly around economic and social development. Since at least the 1970s, designers have been encouraged to con
sider the potential positive impact of their work. 13 Nevertheless, projects that approach the issue of development holistically and from various disciplinary perspectives at once are less common. One such effort has involved the creation of a cross-divisional and transdisciplinary faculty research group at The New School. The group studies socio-economic and urban development through design—in particular, the models of “Made by” and “Designed by” social entrepreneurship. The models are explored and analyzed in terms of their effectiveness in advancing the twin aims of sustainable development and cultural preservation. 14

Students interested in participating in the project with the Mayan artisan weaver’s association Ajkem’a Loy’a in Guatemala take a spring course at the university that runs as a combined lecture series and seminar. The course ends with an intensive prototyping phase in which teams of students from New School divisions including Parsons, Milano, and General Studies apply what has been read and discussed to a real-world context, including the project in Guatemala. The lectures—offered by the core faculty and supplemented by domain experts from 
a variety of fields and institutions—focus on teaching and learning in informal settings; using digital media to communicate, represent, and motivate; microcredit and financing; marketing; fundraising; and urban development.

Central to the course’s pedagogy is the demystification of the universal expert—the idea that a single person may have an answer to every question—in order to establish an equal field of questions, skills, and knowledge in which all participants (faculty, students, and community collaborators alike) can contribute and learn (SEE FIGURE 2). This approach has yielded a successful learning experience for students, whose course evaluations and project debriefings often celebrate their participation in the project. As one summer 2009 participant put it in an anonymous post-fieldwork evaluation, “I think that I learned more than I ever could in a class and I have formulated opinions and ideas that I believe I could only have made through this experience.”

This positioning of students as active agents of their own education helps prepare them to facilitate the capacity-building aspect of the summer project (during which time they travel to Guatemala for
up to two months). Students prepare and conduct ice-breaker activities that promote trust and team-work; specific skill-based workshops in product pricing, sewing, patternmaking, and computers; and discussion-based activities that cover running an organization, managing inventory, and so on. This hands-on intensive approach requires students to quickly translate theory (from the spring class and previous training) into practice. The class becomes a situation in the real world, in which the students are playing a critical role.

The first faculty-student trip to Guatemala 
took place in 2008, for the summer program in 
San Lucas Tolimán. During the first two weeks, students from across The New School ran capacity-building workshops focused on skills in the areas 
of business, marketing, and design. Teams of students led workshops in work-time valuation, pricing, inventory, quality control, the association’s organization, new product development, patternmaking, sewing, marketing, computers, and English. The goal of the workshops was to introduce the members of the Mayan women’s group to all the elements essential to running a sustainable income-generating organization. A final evaluation of the month-long collaboration indicated that substantive, active learning had occurred in at least eight areas: work-time valuation, inventory, quality control, 
new product development, patternmaking, sewing, computers, and English. In three of the areas (pricing, marketing, and the association’s organization), the evaluation demonstrated some learning, but with a need for further instruction. 15 Furthermore, although the project was initially focused on developing a “Designed by” model (in which the weavers eventually acquire all the skills needed for
a sustainable enterprise), the faculty recommended continuing the collaboration under its original stated goals, while at the same time engaging in a pilot “Made by” model. Although initially resistant to this latter approach, faculty advisors observed during the project that training the artisans to be designers would entail a much longer process than they had originally anticipated. Therefore, the faculty advisors decided to test the hypothesis that making, under the supervision of a professional designer, could more quickly enhance the artisans’ skills and facilitate their training towards becoming more effective makers and designers.
The “designed by” approach allows artisans to develop their own products and move up the value chain of design, rather than merely subsisting as manufacturers.

A grant from the Amsterdam-based arts organization W139 16 has supported further work between two Parsons faculty members and the women of Ajkem’a Loy’a. This yearlong project, initiated in December 2008, is clearly framed within the “Made by” model: One of the faculty members is working with the women on weaving experimentation with the goal of designing a two-piece outfit, of which the association agreed to produce 139, to be purchased at a higher-than-fair-trade price. Although the number of garments has recently been reduced because of the collaboration’s challenges, it has already yielded observable positive outcomes: The Mayan women are being paid 1.5 times the fair wage calculated
for Guatemala; the “design expert,” in this case a Parsons faculty member, has been able to engage the women, through their own craft, in weaving experimentation to which the artisans had previously never been exposed; and the artisans have been able to develop new design variations on their own products (putting the summer 2008 workshops into practice). This is consistent with a shift exhibited by Sop Moei Arts in Thailand: After several years of working on designs provided to them, artisans started to innovate their own product variations. 17

In summer 2009 a new team of students from Parsons, Milano, and International Affairs traveled with faculty advisors to Guatemala to continue the project New School Collaborates: Guatemala. This time half of the group worked on developing new collaborations and partnerships with new artisan groups in other Guatemalan towns, while the other half followed up on the work with Ajkem’a Loy’a in San Lucas Tolimán from the previous year. This latter group observed a change in two principal aspects of the association’s work. First, the summer 2009 design team observed that women in the group have begun to see themselves as designers and are now better able to describe the creative experiments they are engaged in with their weaving (SEE FIGURE 3). On July, 16, 2009, one of the students illustrated this change on the project’s blog:

We began our work with Ajkem’a Loy’a by introducing a series of “inspiration” images for them to look at. Each of the women selected a few of their favorites, explained to us why they chose them, and began experimenting with their weaving, using the images as “reference.” The outcome was very pleasing: each of the women explained what elements they used from the images in their weaving (most of whom were initially attracted to the colors). Mayda, drawing inspiration from a picture of the ocean, not only incorporated colors from it, but also created a dotted pattern in her weave that represented the rocks underneath the water. Those of which were closer to the surface and thus received more sunlight were translated into brighter yellow dots in her weave, while the other rocks further from the ocean’s surface were more subdued in her design.

The second major change is in how the association works as a group. Interestingly, they did not adopt the proposed horizontal model for their roles and functions, yet they have been able to strengthen their group work. They are clearly well positioned to take on larger responsibilities as a group, as there is a clear and shared understanding of the various tasks and roles involved in running the association.

These two major changes led this year’s group of students to focus on preparing Ajkem’a Loy’a to begin exporting their goods (the long-term goal around which the collaboration had been established). A team of students prepared and led an exporting workshop, which was divided into three parts. The first focused on what needs to be in place before exporting begins, including high quality products, a communications plan, and a structure of specific roles for carrying out the various operational aspects of the organization. The second addressed the development of a print or online product catalog, and the third focused on receiving and fulfilling an order. Summer 2009 culminated with the definition of a product line that will now be test-marketed in New York City as the first phase of a wider import strategy.

The New School Collaborates: Guatemala is just 
one of many recent projects that shed light on the important role design can play in social entrepreneurship initiatives. In theory, a “Designed by” model is more likely to lead to ongoing sustain
able development, but in practice the challenges of working with artisans of very different educational levels and cultural backgrounds can lead to serious problems of implementation. 18 The New School research group’s experience in Guatemala suggests that short-term “Made by” initiatives can actually help pave the way for more ambitious “Designed by” development models, since they present opportunities to put into practice design skills and concepts that are not easily integrated via workshops alone. Thus, with some artisan communities, a combination of the two models may be the optimal means of promoting design-based sustainable development.


Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, Design for the Other 90%, archive.cooperhewitt.org/other90.


Aid to Artisans website, www.aidtoartisans.org.


Craft Revival Trust, Artesanías de Colombia S.A., UNESCO, Designers Meet Artisans: A Practical Guide. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005.


Craft Revival Trust.


Victor Margolin, “Design for Development: Towards a History,” Design Studies, 28, 2007, 111–115.


Cojolyá website, www.cojolya.org.


Fabiola Berdiel and Jaykumar Dehejia, “CARE/The New School Partnership Feasibility Study Summary,” Feasibility Study for CARE/The New School partnerships, The New School, 2007.


Artesanías de Colombia,www.artesaniasdecolombia.com.co.


Expoartesanías website www.expoartesanias.com.


Craft Revival Trust.


Craft Revival Trust.


Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, p. 1.


Victor Papanek, Design for the Real World: human Ecology and Social Change, 2nd ed. (Chicago: Academy Chicago Publishers, 1985); 1st ed., 1971.


The case study referenced here was organized and conducted by the author along
with Fabiola Berdiel, J. Erin Cho, Jaykumar Dehejia, Alice Demirjian, Pascale Gatzen, Mark Johnson, Edwin Torres and Tatiana Wah; the 27 students who traveled to Guatemala in summers 2008 and 2009; and the members of the Mayan weaver associations Ajkem’a Loy’a and Ixoqui A’j Ru Xel Kiem.


Cynthia Lawson, “The New School, CARE & Ajkem’a Loy’a: A Case Study in Learning in Intensive and Immersive Global Programs and in Cross-Cultural and Bilingual Collaborative Work,” conference presentation, Global Interactions in Design Education 2008, Online and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.


W139 website, w139.nl/el.


Carolyn Jongeward, “A Search for Sustainable Livelihoods Within Global Marketplaces: Stories of Learning and Change Among Rural Artisans in Thailand,” in CASAE-ACÉÉA National Conference 2001—Twentieth Anniversary Proceedings.


See Jongeward, 5.

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