12th European Academy of Design Conference: Design for Next
Date: 12th to 14th April 2017
Place: Rome, Italy
Presentation: “Adding plus value to development aid projects through design strategy: experiences from Pakistan”
The conference Design for NEXT was organized by the European Academy of Design (EAD) from 12th to 14th April 2017 at the Faculty of Architecture of Sapienza University in Rome, in the historic building at Valle Giulia, located beautifully at the edge of Villa Borghese, Rome’s largest public park. It was divided into nine tracks – Aesthetics, Economy, Education, Environment, Health, Industry, Society, Technology, & Thinking – in which more than 500 participants presented and discussed their work in the design field. Accordingly the spectrum of topics and formats spanned widely from implemented case studies to the development of theoretical frameworks for design research and practice.
The key topic that emerged was the search for new roles and tasks of design; the term ‘identity crisis of the design discipline’ could be heard frequently. For one, it addressed design in the context of industrial production and consumption, increasingly critically seen in light of environmental and ethical concerns. Sustainable materials and production modes were discussed widely, e.g. regarding the circular economy, aiming to design products with minimal material impact on the environment. Another presentation, rooted in the urge for applicability, addressed the unpleasing look of solar panels through using typical textile design pattern making methods, like repeat, to turn them potentially into pleasing architectural construction material. Furthermore, the crux of the design matter seems to be the search for its own role in areas such as health care, economy or society, where design results don’t necessarily manifest in objects but take on strategic tasks. An interesting workshop-cum-discussion took place regarding design in politics: does design have to play a role in it at all? If so, which one? And if it can facilitate communication, understanding and acceptance of plurality and diversity in society: what are the challenges of plurality and diversity? After teaching design to undergraduate students for eleven years, the track on education was of particular interest, seeing examples of how world over design educators break down the complexity of the design field into digestible pieces for and with students through a variety of, sometimes very experimental, methods. An interesting and innovative example of intercultural teaching was a project conducted with students of two universities in Jerusalem and in Mumbai, doing parallel community based projects and exchanging experiences and mutual feedback regularly.
It was noticeable that many presentations culminated into showing new theoretic models for design research and practice, which led to the question if design is still an applied science or moves towards a more philosophical one? Personally I was most inspired by those presentations that displayed a close relationship of both.
In my own presentation titled ‘Adding plus value to development aid projects through design strategy: experiences from Pakistan’, I outlined findings from my PhD research about craft projects in Pakistan’s grassroots empowerment sector. The empiric research itself was largely conducted through investigating existing case studies in this field, through action research, and through close engagement with different stakeholders. This raised my interest in how development aid and design practice historically have been related, in parallels of both fields and in the question which complementing value design practice can potentially contribute. The feedback was very supportive of both, the topic and also the research framework. Naturally mostly design professionals from the fields of craft heritage and from social innovation turned to me for further information.
The wide range of topics reflected in the keynote presentations, two on each day. A large library of materials where designers can inform themselves about especially new and innovative materials and their characteristics was presented, as well as two different approaches to growing objects and furniture naturally, through funguses or by directing the growth of a tree. Personally I was most inspired by Arturo Vittori’s keynote, in which he showed how he developed a water tower that helps people to collect water from rain and moisture. He implemented the prototype in a village in Ethiopia, using the local construction knowledge of the village people. Questions emerged in the discussion regarding the ethics of intervening in traditional cultures. Due to my own research I’m sensitive to those questions, but to me this project represented a highly constructive way of intercultural co-creation, based on critical reflection, experimentation and inclusion of local knowledge.
Altogether, the conference was a highly resourceful event. It triggered new thoughts and hopefully lasting professional contacts.