Image: Duncan Davidson 

Story Highlights

Leyla Acaroglu from Australia rallies an actively engaged creative community in New York to curate experiences that evoke positive change for us all.

Leyla Acaroglu is the Creator of Un-School of Disrupt Design, which is an intentionally provocative design advocacy start-up that runs events and classes. Members can join including artists, designers, innovators and social change makers to channel their skills and agency for good.

The drive to affect the world with positive change is not going away. More and more men and women are being challenged to think differently and are doing something about it. Go back to a time in your life when an experience affected you so deeply that you were apt to establish a plan to create change. For Leyla Acaroglu of Disrupt Design, she understands the value of experience, and so she found away to reach communities by “creating thought provoking experiences that facilitate a deeper understanding and responsibility for social change.” As an advisor and advocate of sustainability in design for the last decade, she has taken what she’s learned and brought her ideas to fruition by curating experiences that challenge people to think differently, and she’s getting the creative community on board.

What sparked this beautiful entrepreneurial feat? Well, to Leyla, design is a fascinating and profoundly influential practice, but it has struck her just how little awareness there is of the influential force that the designed world has on us all. All of this came about through her studies in design and sociology, which led her to discovering life-changing value in creative work.

Read ahead to learn about how the process of problem exploration and ideation is effective in creative work, why some individuals are actively engaged in creating change while others deflect responsibility, and lastly, how to make an intelligent and well-thought out case for design sustainability.

Q | Tell us about the vision behind Disrupt Design.
Design is a fascinating and profoundly influential practice and profession, having working as an adviser and advocate of sustainability in design for the last decade, what has struck me time and time again is just how little awareness there is of the influential force that the designed world has on us all. Nearly every moment of our lives is scripted by design, from urban design to service and product design, our lives are profoundly influenced by the choices made by others. Disrupt Design is a provocative and playful proposition to the wider creative communities to explore, activate and influence through the work that they do. At Disrupt, we use experiences based on play, fun and gamification as the platform for creating unique and thought provoking experiences that facilitate a deeper understanding and responsibility for social change. We take commissions to curate experiences that evoke positive change. Though our flagship public facing project –The Un-School of Disrupt Design we work with designers, artists, innovators and change agents to collaboratively curate experiences that challenge people to think differently about the ways in which we live in the world for positive social change.

Q | As an expert on Design + Sustainability can you tell us about your journey leading up to the launch of Disrupt Design (talk about your studies)
I wanted to be an entrepreneur – it sounded like a way better career choice then a boring office job – and so I started off by studying product design, I figured that this skillset would be a great way of creatively solving problems, however a couple years in I started to realize I was just learning how to create crappy things to facilitate mass-consumerism and it just didn’t gel with me at all! Whilst in design school I worked hard to try and find ways of adding value through the things I was creating, I couldn’t shake the fact that the profession was basically responsible for many of the ills that I was starting to realize excited in the world. So I ended up quitting design school and studying sociology majoring in sustainability, with the objective of merging the two and working in sustainable design.

The way I saw it was, people’s behaviors, motivators and social conditions ultimately contribute to the way the world operates and thus learning all about what makes people tick and how to influence them would be a far more effective way of solving problems then how to create new versions of things, but my design training has time and time again been one of the most valuable assets I possess. What I learnt through design was flexibility in thinking and a process of problem exploration and ideation that has proven invaluable for my work. So, after graduating I started on my career as an eco-design advisor and educator founding my first company in 2009 – Eco Innovators, we specialize in creating playful educational resources to activate around sustainability and design thinking – many of which are won awards and been included in exhibitions around the world. I went on to teach in universities and have just recently completed my PhD via creative practice which explored a transdisciplinary approach to making pro-sustainability change in and through an intentionally disruptive practice. I recently moved to New York, started Disrupt Design and founded the Un-School of Disrupt Design a platform for creating a community of actively engaged and motivated creative for change.

Q | What is the message behind The Un-School of Disrupt Design?
The Un-School of Disrupt Design is an intentionally provocative design advocacy start-up that runs events and classes that provoke positive social and environmental change. We are a membership based organization for artists, designers, innovators and social change makers to channel their skills and agency for good. We are a living gallery and experimental knowledge lab that evolves through the contributions of its participants and members. Our agenda is to actively engage and empower creatives to use their creative skillset for positive social change. Our goal is to have a HQ set up in NYC by early 2015 and then build our programming and other space offerings to our members in cities around the world (yep – we have big plans!).

At the Un-School we are building a community of designers, artists, innovators and change agents who already are or want to continue to explore ways in which they can use their practice and skills for positive social change. We are a membership based project providing opportunities, experimental education, provocative thought provoking events. We are curating on and offline spaces that provide drop-in co-working, workshop, events, advice and collaboration concierge services for the community.

The premise is that design is the silent social influencer that shapes and scripts our lives in profound and subversive ways, that the creative community has the power to activate positive change in the world and that we are going to get stuff in the here and now! Our public program is really important as we are advocating for the role of design to be perceived and understood differently in the wider community. We invite anyone to come and un-do it at the un-school!

Q | Can you tell us about the culture of design and art and its influence in effecting positive social and environmental change
Culture is hard to define as it fluctuates between communities and differing social conditions. Being from Australia originally and having lived around the world and recently moved to New York, I find the design and art culture different and similar in equal ways. I think though that there is a constant and inherent desire within the creative communities to actively engage with the world – after all that’s why we create right? However, what I find fascinating is the myriad of ways in which people deflect responsibility for the influence and impact that the things they create have on the world. Some people are actively engaged with considering and communicating through this, but others are just as likely to justify a lack of responsibility in the name of art/design. Over the years I have done much research into the ways in which creatives see their roles professionally and the actions they do or don’t take to minimise any potential impacts that they may have on the world through their work. My research has found time and time again that there is a considerable cognitive dissonance between what people say and what they do in regards to social and environmental choices. Most people are highly active in their personal lives, but when it comes to their jobs, it’s a completely different story with many people deflecting responsibility onto the company/client/government or wider forces that they feel completely disempowered to work against. This really has been a major motivating factor for me in the new work that I am doing here in NYC, how can we create conditions that allow for activated change to occur? How can the creative community overcome these clear and present issues of responsibility and opportunity? Obviously leadership is critical, and Un-School is really about creating more leaders, but just as much as overt actions are required there is a case for subversive, covert and subtle interventions and acts that help to shift and normalize new, more sustainable ways of doing things. Sometimes it’s just about allowance and other times it really takes a dramatic change in the social conditions for people to see the opportunities that sustainability offers both creatively and professionally. My agenda is to actively participate in the creation of a new normal, where sustainability is not an option but a natural integration, to be a part of the new design-led revolution for positive change.

Q | Any upcoming projects / events we should know about?
Disrupt Design is about to launch a new game for change makers called “Game Changer” is an idea facilitation tool that challenges participants to create diverse and unique approaches to change campaigns. The Un-School is just about to open up our membership in mid-November and launch our Kickstarter campaign for getting our HQ space in NYC up and running. We are also planning on running a Holiday pop-up that features many of our offerings of casual co-working, drop-in workshops and classes, and an un-shop and gallery space for our members to showcase their work. I’m also teaching a 3 part deep-dive workshop series at the AIGA in November called Your Brain on Change which is all about the psychological and cognitive conditions that encourage us to resist and adopt changes. We also keep running weird and wonderful events around town such as our monthly Verbal Fight Club (come and own your convictions) and a variety of other fun and provocative events!

Q |  We know you are about to launch a column on consciousmagazine.co as one of our editorial collaborators – why is that important to you?
I love a good challenge! Writing every month for six months is a great way to create a space for me to think through, articulate and communicate the work that we are doing here in NYC. Given I just finished writing a PhD and am embarking on a book in the new year, I also really appreciate the opportunity to re-frame, articulate and discuss some of the trials and tribulations that we go through in making change – I mean, doing good can really hurt sometimes! I personally believe in learning through failures, and have no qualms in sharing the things I have learnt thus far, both as a designer, active provocateur for positive change and as an entrepreneur. I really look forward to sharing some of the things I have learnt along the way with the Conscious Magazine community.

Learn. Connect. Act.
Learn more about LeylaAcaroglu.com and DisruptDesign.co
Connect via Facebook and Twitter

From the Editor
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