An industrial-design professor at Politecnico di Milano, Manzini hatched many theories that underpin the movement to crack social problems with design. "Design is a powerful agent socially and environmentally," he says. Convinced that society needs "systemic change," Manzini — who also works for the UN Environmental Program — sees designers as "agents for sustainability."
After the 2000 U.S. election, in which poor ballot design voided thousands of votes in Florida, Lausen, an Illinois graphic designer, helped launch Design for Democracy, a project to redesign the political process. Her book, Design for Democracy, has been given to 600 congress members and election officials across the U.S. She believes voters will be less likely to be vexed by bad design in 2008.
The D.school, Stanford's design institute, teaches its students design thinking, not traditional design. "Our goal is to prepare students not just to solve problems, but to find problems worth working on," says George Kembel, the D.school's executive director. "They must have empathy for real people and their latent needs, and an attitude of prototyping to help them to get to big ideas."
A version of this article appeared in the November 2008 issue of Fast Company magazine.