I had the pleasure of speaking with humanitarian designer, Emily Pilloton, about her work especially with Studio H. As mentioned previously, Pilloton was honored by USA Network Characters Approved 2011 program. In addition, Pilloton has been featured in various media like Forbes, The New York Times, Tree Hugger and more. I've included a video below from her interview on the Colbert Report too!
Q: How did the idea of Studio H come about and lead to where you are today?
A: I founded the non-profit Project H when I was 28 and starting my design career. I was frustrated with the typical design career path and wanted to use all the skills I had learned to make a bigger impact on the world. In order to add more value as a designer, I started Studio H, a project in rural North Carolina, that focuses on designing, building and educating. It really helped me put a stake in the ground because I was done doing work that felt meaningless.
Q: So then you moved from San Francisco to rural North Carolina. What compelled you to make such a big transition?
A: First, I wanted to be a better model for other designers. In San Francisco there was so much design clutter. My partner and I saw an opportunity in rural North Carolina to use design as a source of solution in a place that isn't surrounded by design - or using it much at all. We live and work in the poorest county in North Carolina and have been here for over 2 years now. I moved here permanently about a year ago.
Q: How did the local community receive you and the idea of Studio H?
A: Well, the public eduction system can be difficult to implement change. We had to push hard and form allies within the system to get everyone on board. Once we started teaching, there was less of a battle. Also, the kids, families, and community here are wonderful!
Q: What is it like living there? How long will you stay?
A: It's definitely a small town feel. You see people you know everywhere you go. We really can't answer how long we will be here. At this point we are staying until someone kicks us out. No matter how long we are here the people and community will need help, and we are currently committed and here with no end date in mind.
Q: How can other designers get involved?
A: Rather than trying to have chapters all over the globe doing separate projects we want designers to use our model and apply it to their own community. We had various local teams and projects going at once. But, we came to realize it is very hard to manage, and the quality of the work was suffering. This type of work requires heart and soul. As a result, we will work to help other teams be setup as independent entities if interested. Everyone needs to be a part of the conversation, but each community needs to act on their own to be effective.
Q: What designers or brands do you follow or provide inspiration for your work?
A: Overall, I am more inspired by movers and shakers in other industries than designers. There are stimuli coming from outside the design world that interest me. One brand that comes to mind is Patagonia. I'm obsessed with the brand and wear their products. The founder of the company is brilliant with his outlook on sustainability. There's a documentary called 180° South that he is involved in, and there's is a quote from the movie that I've been using so I'll leave you with that.
"In order to do good, you first have to do something." - Yvon Chouinard
You can find more information about Studio H on their website at www.studio-h.org.