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Design can change the world. In fact, it already is changing the world for the better. That's the argument of EDIT, a new exhibition and festival that will launch this fall in Toronto.

Last week, the Design Exchange announced details of the event, which will take place Sept. 28 to Oct. 8 in an old detergent factory on the edge of downtown Toronto. Featuring an installation by the designer Bruce Mau, it will showcase "an edit of real-world problems," said the Design Exchange president Shauna Levy, along with innovative solutions.

Occupying a former Unilever factory, the event will combine talks and live events with a five-floor collection of exhibitions. EDIT – the name is an acronym for Expo for Design, Innovation & Technology – will address four themes: "Shelter," "Nourish," "Care" and "Educate," which speak to the United Nations Development Programme's (UNDP) Global Goals for Sustainable Development.

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"This is the greatest time in human history to be alive," Mau said in the factory, which still has a strong odour of soap. "Connection and collaboration across borders and fences and religion – that is the idea of our time. And that is the culture of design thinking."

EDIT "plants the flag for this way of thinking about design," Mau said in an interview: that is to say, the idea of "design" as a far-reaching and interdisciplinary process that informs and can serve global humanitarian goals.

Mau has set the tone for this approach to the design disciplines. He began his career as an influential graphic designer, but his multidisciplinary design firm created a spinoff called the Massive Change Network and also the Institute Without Boundaries, an interdisciplinary design school.

Massive Change, a book and a museum show that toured widely, explored Mau's expansive vision of design.

Within the EDIT show, Mau is curating a series of photographs by the photojournalist Paolo Pellegrin of global conflict – a "context," Mau argues, for the utopian projects on show.

For the DX, as the Design Exchange is known, which has had a focus on industrial and graphic design, this is a change. The institution, which has been a public gallery in downtown Toronto since 1994, has been largely focused on Canadian industrial design and graphic design and recently on fashion: A show two years back, both smartly curated and well-attended, was called Politics of Fashion/Fashion of Politics.

And yet, Levy says, "People have a limited understanding of what design is – and that's why it's important for us to begin this project."

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At the DX, "We have started to evolve our programming to be more in line with that idea," Levy said, "that design can change the world."

EDIT's ambit will range from food – thanks to contributions from chef Jamie Oliver's non-profit – to medical devices and architecture. The organizers cited participants including Not Impossible Labs, which creates crowdsourced devices to aid people with disabilities, the architecture of Bjarke Ingels Group and the social entrepreneurship of Newfoundland's Zita Cobb through the Shorefast Foundation.

The festival will happen as one of many events this summer to mark Canada's 150th birthday – and it is also the 50th anniversary of Expo 67 in Montreal, with which Levy draws a direct comparison. It's unlikely that EDIT can remake Toronto or Canada in the way that Expo did Montreal, but in pushing forward a broad idea of social responsibility, it might just reshape how people (not least designers of every stripe) see the world.

"Design is always extracted from life," Mau said. "I say, let's not look away from life: Let's look directly at the worst human behaviour, so that we can understand the challenges we now face, and then celebrate the people who are doing it."

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