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By the People: Designing a Better America

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A manual for challenging inequality through innovation and creativity

By the People: Designing for a Better America examines how design is effectively challenging poverty and social inequality across America.

The book explores current social, economic and environmental issues in America with a particular focus on marginalized and underserved communities.

By the People features design projects organized into six working themes: Act, Save, Share, Live, Learn and Make.

It is a true manual—in format and content—featuring design solutions that expand access to education, food, health care and affordable housing; increase social and economic inclusion; offer improved alternative transportation options, and provide a balanced approach to land use between the built and natural environments.

Cooper Hewitt Curator Cynthia E. Smith traveled to post-industrial cities, urban areas impacted by natural disasters, sprawling cities, places of persistent poverty and major metropolitan regions. Her research yielded nearly 400 potential projects from over 30 states and three indigenous nations (Navajo, Lakota, Pueblo).

Smith met with local designers, community members and organizations. Her research was guided by the following questions:

Where does poverty exist?

Why are poverty numbers increasing?

What populations and communities are most affected?

Who are the individuals, organizations and networks that are creating innovative and systemic approaches through design?

What are the local, regional and scalable design solutions?


In addition to the highly illustrated project profiles, By the People contains essays by, and interviews with, those designers and architects building the innovative and systemic approaches that challenge inequality and propose an improved future.

Designed by Other Means

Published by the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, 2016

Softcover, 256 pages, 425 color images, 8.25 × 10.75 inches

ISBN: 978-1-942303-14-5