Ezio Manzini, Professor of Industrial Design at Politecnico di Milano, Director of the Research Unit Design and Innovation for Sustainability and coordinates the Masters in Strategic Design and Doctorate in Industrial Design programmes. He works on strategic design and design for sustainability, with a focus on scenario building and solution development. He has written several books on product-service systems and sustainability.

Ezio Manzini

What, in your view, is 'sustainable design'?
I prefer to call it design for sustainability. For me, design for sustainability is whatever design can do to trigger, support and orient sustainable solutions. Bringing about changes in the way of living and producing can be considered concrete steps towards sustainability.


With this definition, design for sustainability is not a design discipline. It is an approach in the search for solutions that utilize, involve and orient in the direction of sustainability. All design disciplines can actively participate to the development of appropriate enabling solutions.


The Chulha was developed by local designers, NGOs and users. What value do you believe co-creation brings?
Co-creation means bringing the final users into the design process. This integration is necessary because as we face the growing complexity of the present global-local society, designers are confronted with problems that, for them, can be completely unfamiliar.  In this case, involving the final user is not an option but a necessity. It is made possible today because co-design and co-development processes can be based on the new social and technological networks. Therefore, they can assume the brand new, effective organizational forms that these networks are generating.

How do you see the role of designers evolving in the future?  Will it change?
 The traditional design role has been to recognize technological innovation and translate it in socially acceptable products and services. This activity, of course, remains valid. But now, something else has to be done. The bridge between technology and society has to be built in the opposite direction too: to recognize social innovation and to translate it in technically (and economically) feasible products and services. This requires not only new design tools, but also a different idea of the designers’ role: moving from being the only creative participants in interdisciplinary design processes, towards the professional designers amongst many non-professional ones. That is, to work as professional designers in the new co-design processes, in the new designing networks.


You are extensively involved in projects that address sustainability issues and promote social innovation.  Why is this important to you and what inspires you in your work?
Social innovation is driven by social resources (diffuse creativity, skills, knowledge and entrepreneurship) that in turn are capable of mobilizing other social resources. Given that social resources are abundant, strategies based on them have a high potential to become major drivers of change. And, for this same reason, they can become powerful promoters of sustainable ways of living and producing.


For this to happen, this positive phenomenon has to be catalyzed and supported. The design community - and design schools in particular – are a very important contribution to this this positive perspective.


Design for Social Innovation and Sustainability