Catapult recently took a short trip down to San Jose to visit Leslie Speer in the SJSU Industrial Design Department. We originally hunted Leslie down for her rural mobility insights relevant to the Anza Handcart Project, but also managed to learn about her professional history, and her role as Chair of the IDSA Design for the Majority Professional Interest Section.
Leslie recently ran a rural mobility project with her students at SJSU, catering to the people of Lebialem, a mountainous rural region of Western Cameroon, where it “rains more than Portland” and where personal mobility is a constant challenge (to say the least). Leslie got the designers at Specialized Bikes involved, as well as LECDA-USA (Lebialem Cultural and Development Organization), and an international collection of mentors with contextual experience. The project evolved to become a mobility device made from a locally manufacturable bamboo joining system, involving a core group of students, and supported by an NCIIA grant (check out their blog). We discussed mobility and manufacturing nuances and resources, as well as our own experiences in similar contexts, our meeting being of great help in tuning Catapults approach to the Anza project.
Leslie continues to lecture in Design for Sustainability, with obvious passion, having initiated, facilitated, and been involved in international social innovation projects for 20+ years. She has also conducted a lot of work with functional crafts, initially in Mexico, with textiles and woodwork and candle makers etc, going through the whole process from collecting resources, to making, to marketing and selling. In Costa Rica she has been collaborating with the Ministry of Culture, the Government Tourism Agency and the Museum of Contemporary Art & Design to promote and preserve local design (such as the Sarchi cart industry) and to create design education opportunities. Leslie is teaching Sustainable Furniture Design next year and will be taking the results to Milan furniture fair. She will also be involved in a collaborative student project to build a 100sq foot zero emissions house on SJSU campus, incorporating design, architecture, marketing, and business students.
Her belief is that “small changes make the biggest difference” and that increasing individual income potentials is the most realistic way of prompting change in community dynamics and markets …but that this requires patience. On that note she also commented that perceptions of time and the associated assumptions around this can cause a lot of confusion with design interventions, and ultimately lead to their demise. As the Chair of IDSA Design for the Majority Leslie is charged with sensitizing the IDSA design audience to such realities within ‘Majority’ contexts, and ultimately encourage a perception shift that embraces a deeper consideration of these realities in the design process, rather than a default ‘fix-it’ or ‘fly-by’ approach. Through the IDSA Design for the Majority site Leslie conducts down-to-earth reporting of relevant design happenings, people and organisation, and hosts complimentary Webinars, and we can expect an exciting new series in 2011. The IDSA D4M membership is spread broadly throughout the USA industrial design community and gains its fair share of international attention as well, creating quite a powerful audience.
Quite an impressive resume, spanning from the villages of Costa Rica to the offices of Frog Design and IDSA, and it is all humbly presented as a blessing. We have invited Leslie to visit us at the Catapult Design Studio to continue our conversation into 2011…stay tuned…