Bill Moggridge (IDEO), John Thackara (Doors of Perception), Josephine Green (Philips Design), Geetha Narayanan (Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology, Bangalore), and Luigi Ferrara (Institute without Boundaries, Toronto) were only some of the speakers and guests at the highly stimulating Changing the Change conference that took place in the impressive Molecular Biotechnology Research Centre of Turin, Italy, July 10-12.
This outstanding conference "on the role and potential of design research in the transition towards sustainability" was the brainchild of Ezio Manzini (professor of industrial design at the Milan Polytechnic). Jointly organised by the Polytechnic universities of Milan and Turin (with extensive support from their masters and doctoral students), Changing the Change was part of the programme of Turin World Design Capital 2008.
In this longer article I have tried to open up this important conference to those who were not there, which is made easier by the fact that all 138 papers are already online.
A CALL TO ACTION
The three day conference, which was attended by nearly 300 participants from 27 countries, started off with a rousing call to action by the conference chair Ezio Manzini -- pictured above together with Geetha Narayanan and Bill Moggridge. [All keynote sessions were videotaped and the organisers will soon post them online.]
Manzini's core argument is very simple: we must urgently change the rapid changes currently occurring in our world into a direction of sustainability. And design can help us do that:
"Something that we know very well about the present is that the world is changing, rapidly and profoundly. The only certain thing that we know about the future is that the current change must change direction. It must find the way to sustainability."
According to Manzini, Changing the Change is therefore a non-neutral conference, because design research cannot be separated from its purpose and from the social significance of its results. The problems are too big - we cannot remain neutral.
Sustainability should be the meta-objective of every design research activity, he says, and every complex project needs to be supported by good design research.
So what is design research? Manzini came up with a very pragmatic definition (very much liked by Bill Moggridge): "an activity that produces knowledge useful for those who design". This knowledge has to be explicit, discussable, transferrable and accountable in order to have real sustainable impact.
Now, he says, we need to change the change. Eco-efficiency is not enough, as it has not reduced overall consumption. And awareness is not enough, as recognising the environmental problem is not synonymous with sustainable behaviour.
That means to Manzini examples of strategies that work, as Slow Food has successfully demonstrated, but it also means the need for a programme of change, and a programme that "can change the world without money".
WORDS OF EXPERIENCE
Bill Moggridge showed his view of design research, as the founder of the major design consultancy IDEO.
Moggridge has a very deep, wide and long view of the field and I always like his presentations. This time he pulled most of his examples from the IDEO practice -- which I personally thought was a bit regrettable especially since Bill can be so excellent by bringing in the many viewpoints of non-IDEO people such as he did for this book Designing Interactions.
I particularly enjoyed his explanation of the three types of design research: generative, evaluative (or formative) and predictive, and his description of the Designers Accord, which is a powerful sustainability initiative spearheaded by some people within IDEO.
New was the Design for Social Impact project, a major initiative on social change that IDEO is exploring with the Rockefeller Foundation. The focus is on how the design industry can play a larger role in the social sector. A How-to Guide and an accompanying Workbook are written for design firms that are interested in joining in the conversation and are freely available online.
Moggridge ended his presentation with a non-IDEO project: Tangible Earth, the first interactive digital globe. It was conceived and created by Prof. Shin'ichi Takemura (University of Tokyo) who now uses to explain issues of sustainability in an extremely effective way. During last week's G8 summit, the summit lounge contained five digital Tangible Earth globes that visualised issues such as climate change and population explosion --- both major themes of the summit.
Geetha Narayanan is the visionary and very thoughtful founder and director of the Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology in Bangalore, India.
Her brilliant talk "India as Design - Designing India" pulled the audience into a different world. In the first part of her talk, Narayanan showed videos that juxtaposed the development of the culture and the business of food and food related products and services in India against the rapid panoramic change that the country has seen in the last two decades.
The second part of the talk was even more thought provoking. Narayanan presented us excerpts of video interviews with some of the smartest design thinkers of India and used their voices and reflections to convey issues of sustainability, complexity and scale from a radical Indian perspective.
What was surprising, I thought, was the fact that thinking about slow design has become so pervasive with these Indian designers. Several referred to the concept, without even mentioning its origins in the Slow Food movement, which means that the thinking of this Italy (and Turin)-based movement has now become thankfully detached from its geographic origins and is influencing e.g. public transport design in Bangalore.
138 PAPERS IN THREE DAYS
To present 138 papers in three days, the conference had no less than six parallel sessions -- the themes were ways of living, ways of producing, daily life solutions, enabling systems, design theories and design education -- but with such a wealth of content, all presented in parallel, one could not avoid missing out on a lot.
Luckily the organisers and the Allemandi publishing house managed to get all the papers online DURING the conference and it's a real treasure trove. It also helps people like me who couldn't attend the whole conference (I am not a paid journalist and have a company to run) or like most of the Core77 readers who couldn't attend at all.
Below are a selection of about ten papers that aroused my personal interest (the last one is my own presentation), but my choice is very subjective, so I strongly encourage you to browse the content (accessible through the Themes menu) on your own:
Design in public sector services
Insights into the Designs of the Time (Dott 07) public design commission projects
by Lauren Tan (Design Council and Northumbria University)
The paper describes research within a current PhD programme, which aims to understand the contribution that demonstrator initiatives, such as Dott07, a major Design Council initiative led by John Thackara, can have on the embryonic discipline of service design.
The Melbourne 2032 project
Design-visions as a mechanism for (sustainable) paradigm change
by Chris Ryan (Victorian Eco-Innovation Lab)
Climate change presents a truly challenging task for government: to decide how best to stimulate and manage restructuring, to change the trajectory of development, without losing political support. This is the context of a new research and visioning project in Australia known as the Victorian Eco-Innovation Lab (VEIL), which acts as a vision-agent for change.
A vision of an urban countryside
Service design as a contribution to the rururban planning
by Anna Meroni, Giulia Simeone and Paola Trapani (Milan Polytechnic)
This paper aims to present, from a service design perspective, a scenario of sustainable development for a critical and crucial context: the rururban territory, i.e. the periurban area that lies between a town or city and its rural surroundings.
Motivations and perceived benefits underlying choices for more sustainable lifestyles
by Anne Marchand (Universite de Montreal), Stuart Walker (University of Calgary) and Tim Cooper (Sheffield Hallam University)
Within this present study, information gathered from citizens attempting to follow sustainable lifestyles shows that the adoption of sustainable consumption patterns is not only motivated by altruistic and environmental considerations, but also, significantly by perceived personal benefits, including an expected increase in personal well-being.
An alternative view of what 'designing for sustainability' might mean
by Benedict Singleton (University of Northumbria) and John Ardern
ARK-INC is an organisation that acts to prepare its fee-paying clients for extreme, yet highly plausible, near-future scenarios in which natural resources are diminished, violent weather part of the everyday, and social unrest widespread. The paper suggests new concepts, such as guerilla infrastructure, adaptable and resilient means of moving around and bringing together people, things and information; and dormant technology, discarded media that might be re-evaluated in light of new, sustainability-based criteria.
Advancing cosmopolitan localism through participatory innovation
by Mugendi M'Rithaa, Bart Verveckken and Rael Futerman (Cape Peninsula University of Technology)
The central question that this paper seeks to address is whether indeed Africa can 'leapfrog' into a truly sustainable future by using extrapolated scenarios based on evidence from the elective creative community at the FabLab in Cape Town, South Africa.
Extending products' life spans using virtual communities and rapid prototyping
by Phlippe Lalande (Universite de Montreal) and Martin Racine (Concordia University)
The MetaCycle project aims to optimise the creative potential of designers by reuniting them within a virtual community serving the common objective of prolonging the life span of consumer products. The goal of this virtual community is to develop an interactive framework through which consumers can benefit from unique and innovative updates to products that are reaching the end of their useful life. Relying on the exploitation of rapid prototyping techniques, the pooling of a large number of creative minds also allows for the generation of a new category of unique products.
Rethinking the smart home
An environmental perspective
by Daria Loi and Jay Melican (Intel Coporation, User Experience Group)
In the future that we hope for, the "smart home" is about intelligent management of resources -- for personal cost savings and for the benefit of the environment. The notion of a "smart home" must change to match people's day-to-day realities, and technology companies must shift their understanding of the relationships between people, technologies, and the environment, to identify solutions that enhance everyday life with minimised impact to our planet.
Design for Social and Environmental Entreprise
Design at the Service of Social Businesses
by Clare Brass and Flora Bowden (SEED Foundation)
SEED Foundation undertakes academic and action research to develop new, innovative ways for design to most effectively contribute towards sustainable development. The paper specifically investigates how the still emerging discipline of service design, in dealing more with relationships and experiences than material objects, offers inherent social and environmental benefits and is naturally transferable to sectors broader than private business - where designers traditionally work.
Conceiving the Design Centre of the Future
Transforming the economical and social landscape through multidisciplinary projects and integrated user-centred design research
by Mark Vanderbeeken, Michele Visciola and Jan-Christoph Zoels (Experientia)
In this paper we present our vision of a future design centre, called the "Transformation Factory", that will develop concrete, design-driven local and regional solutions with a high economical and social relevance, departing from the current and future needs of people.
(Thank you Bill, Clare, Flora and Luigi for attending my presentation.)
Every conference is also a place of social networking and informal meetings. Through pure chance I bumped into Luigi Ferrara, who is in charge of the Institute without Boundaries in Toronto, Canada, and we ended having a long late-night conversation in a neighbourhood bar.
The Institute without Boundaries is an interdisciplinary postgraduate programme at the School of Design at George Brown College that challenges students to collaborate on global problems through multidisciplinary projects and learning by doing. Multidisciplinary collaboration drives the Institute, but it is also its main challenge as it is not easy to achieve, Ferrara had to admit. Learning by doing is the Institute's main method: researching and developing original ideas and solving complex, real world design problems in a realistic community context.
The Institute was founded in 2003 by George Brown College and Bruce Mau Design. In the inaugural project, Massive Change, six students worked in the Bruce Mau Design studio researching, writing, designing an exhibition, a website, a radio show and a book, that explored and sparked a huge and internationally wide reaching discourse on the future of global design, not in the least thanks to the Massive Change exhibition (shown in Vancouver, Ontario and Chicago) and the Massive Change book published by Phaidon.
Their second project, World House, aims to produce a house that can be built locally and a building process that can be adapted to meet local housing challenges worldwide. The goal of the project is to generate a housing system that achieves a balance between extremes of urban sprawl and urban slums and enables people to build sustaining, universal, and healthy human dwellings and communities.
Despite its fame, the Institute is actually quite small: 12 international "students" work together for nine months to research, design and realize a public and intellectual project. During that time they are challenged by world thinkers, mentored by leading practitioners and academics, and work with local and international contacts.
A CONFERENCE WITH A LOOK AND FEEL
A special mention should go to art director Sergio Corsaro. Rarely have I seen a conference with such a beautiful and relevant logo (supported by its own colour identity: bold yellow), and with a branding so consistently implemented throughout the entire venue: from the reception desk to the banners, from the volunteer T-shirts to the "reserved" stickers on the first row chairs. Very, very well done.
A TIME TO ACT
Ezio Manzini, Claudio Germak (who was responsible for the organisational coordination) and the two Italian Polytechnic universities of Milan and Turin have pulled off a remarkable feat.
Not only was the conference conceptually sound, of the highest level, and very well organised (especially since it was all based on volunteer work), but it also presented a huge overview of visions, proposals and tools, all based on precise design research activities.
The proceedings with the papers are a book of treasures that all designers should browse through, picking the fruits that they like. But most of all, there is the Changing the Change call to action: our world is changing very fast - we now have to change the direction of that change into a sustainable future. This work is urgent, massive and concerns each one of us.