Social innovations are ideas that work for the public good. It will not be a new term to a sustainability-literate audience, but designers’ involvement in it might be. They come from individuals, groups or organizations, and can take place in the for-profit, nonprofit and public sectors. Increasingly, they are happening in the spaces between these three sectors as perspectives collide to spark new ways of thinking.

Rather than design focusing solely on heating up the economy so it grows, driving consumption and stimulating sales, this is design and innovation focused on society’s most important challenges and problems: climate change, access to clean water, better sanitation, pollution, poverty or malnutrition, female empowerment, crime and so on.

But why should designers “design” for social impact? “I don’t believe designers have a monopoly over social innovation and don’t need to be involved for its success. But designers do have an important skill-set to apply to social innovation – namely, an empathic approach to their solutions. Unlike their engineering cousins working extensively from technology or science, designers start from people. It’s historically been termed empathic design, user, human or people-centred design, and it’s been interesting to hear recent calls for an overhaul of terminology within the design industry, from “human-centred design” to “humanity-centred design”, which does rather hit the spot.” Chris Sherwin, head of sustainability at leading design and innovation consultancy Seymour Powell, told the BBC in a fascinating article on social innovation.

Read what else Sherwin had to say.