What are young designers working on? Inspired by? Concerned about? Did their design degree prepare them well for a career in a design studio, academia or corporate environment? Seeking a way to connect peers across continents and provide mentorship and coaching, WDO launched the Young Designers Circle (YDC) as a pilot programme in April 2020.

Led by coach and WDO Regional Advisor Gilles Rougon, and strategic advisor Chris Pandolfi from WDO Member George Brown College, the YDC is comprised of 19 under-40 design students, researchers and professionals of various sectors and disciplines. Together they aim to build, engage and leverage ‘glocal’ interdisciplinary networks to empower young designers to action sustainable changes. Embarking on a process to design relevant questions, which leads to the development of relevant initiatives, this core group looks to WDO’s mission of design for a better world, and the framework of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals to champion projects that have impact.

For me, it is always about perspectives and experiences that young designers can bring to any conversation and how they can shape the future. Often their opinions and ideas are reflective of the changing nature of society, focused more on creating a social good and pushing the nature of the profession design and its potential – Chris Pandolfi

As noted by YDC member Stephen MacNeil (USA), many young designers today are graduating with expert technical skills, but lack some of the important soft skills, such as communicating ideas and advocating for equitable and sustainable design. In order to address the ‘growing disconnect’ between design education and the design industry, the YDC is exploring a variety of projects that will encourage K-12 students to learn more about design as a career, and facilitate a smooth transition from design student to design professional while engaging with current best practices. As noted by YDC member Meghan Preiss (USA), the “YDC can empower young voices to make an impact and get involved” and make design “resources accessible to all ages, levels of experience, backgrounds.”

Design education has become more defined and siloed and doesn’t consistently communicate understanding business impact or how to empathize with the different backgrounds that graduates will face in the workforce.

Usually when you are a young designer you have a mix between your longing for change [in] your environment and at the same time, [you] don’t [yet] have great experience about it. You have to face new needs but with old methods or concepts. The Young Designers Circle is a wonderful initiative to reshape your role as a designer, because you comprehend that you are part of a community that has amazing diverse valuable perspectives about the global and local needs, which is enriching. – Cesar Gabriel Rosales Guadarrama (Mexico)

The diversity of the group, with members from over 13 countries in ages ranging from 20 to 37 years old, has made for a unique dynamic. Indeed, the YDC sees this diversity as being key to their success – “each of us has a diverse background in the design field which allows us to bring different values to extend our impact.” According to YDC member Ashton Moseley (South Africa) “working on YDC initiatives in a collaborative way, has challenged my preconceived ideas and opened my eyes to so many opportunities, approaches and perspectives.”

Members of the YDC are able to leverage their “global positions to form local communities around the world,” and act as the bridge between different regions, sharing ideas from one culture and design philosophy to another. Nilay Zanbak (Turkey) agrees that together, the YDC can “challenge, question and look for ways of making our environment a better place for everyone.”

Managing both their professional and personal schedules in an exceptionally challenging year, the group has embraced collaborating virtually, and leverages a variety of digital tools to facilitate effective plenary brainstorming and progress sessions. The first few months were a chance to get to know not only each other, but jointly discover their common values: being collaborative, curious, bold and thinking globally/acting locally.

The YDC is the perfect platform for young designers to champion causes close to their heart. I believe the diversity of the group, both of locale and thought, is an asset that most designers will cherish and benefit from. – Dishi Gautam (Singapore)

Once established, they turned to determine themes on which they wanted to focus. Understanding the scope of WDO’s programmes, these young designers have narrowed their focus on sustainability, design education and equity.

In addition to finessing their 2021 project roster, the group has also participated in a variety of international events over the past several months: collaborating with Eclozr in France and Open Design Afrika in South Africa, Shenzen Industrial Design Fair (China) and Tunisia Design Week.

Learning to excel and execute virtually, the group has overcome language and cultural barriers and diverging time zones to produce a cohesive vision for their future plans. With their foundation now clearly in place, the YDC is excitedly preparing to launch a variety of initiatives come 2021.

Read more about the members of the Young Designers Circle.