THE FUTURE OF DESIGN

Everything in life is designed according to someone’s vision for improving our lifestyle – home appliances, clothing, accessories and shoes, public and commercial spaces, mobile devices, applications and web sites. It is inconceivable to separate the present from the ubiquitous influence of design. Since when does the utilitarian and applied discipline attract so much attention, generate extreme opinions and put label of quality? Who determines what are the signs of good or bad design? Who decides what to preserve in our collective memory about the aesthetics, function and message we constantly handle and accept as the backdrop of the environment?

Design museums attempt to make order in these queries by presenting complex historical occurrences and doubtful future prognosis, by elaborating on both the origin of the laundry clip, the sign @ and the emoticons. Back in 1852 Victoria & Albert Museum mark the beginning of the design museums by establishing itself as the world’s first museum of applied art, founded as an attempt to collect wealth and demonstrate the progress of the British Empire after the Industrial Revolution. At the beginning of the 20th century, similar institutions appeared in different parts of the world, whose activities and programs sought knowledge of product, industrial, graphic, fashion, social design, architecture and others. There is currently a wave of new design museums, set in impressive and iconic buildings with characteristic collections that criticize trends through bold formats and invite visitors to know more about the subtle nuances of the discipline – such as the Museu del Disseny (Barcelona), the Design Museum Holon (Israel), OCT Design Museum (Shen Shan), M + (Hong Kong), 21_21 Design Sight (Tokyo) and others.

The Design Museum in London is a valuable navigation light among the vast amount of information about the history, the present and the future of design. Founded in 1989 by Sir Terrance Conran in a white three-story building on the banks of the River Thames, at the end of 2016 the museum moved to the renovated by architect John Pawson building of the Commonwealth Institute in Kensington.

Deyan Sudjic is director of the Design Museum since 2006. Born and raised in London, the direct Balkan association in the name comes as a legacy of his parents – immigrants from the former Yugoslavia. Sudjic studied architecture at the University of Edinburgh, but his commitment to the discipline subsequently shifted entirely to writing and curatorial activities. Sudjic’s career covers journalism, teaching and writing. Highlights include Glasgow’s 1999 annual initiative: UK City of Architecture and Design, curator of the Venice Biennale of Architecture (2002), editor of Domus Magazine (2000-2004) and author of design and architecture books, which have become indispensable references (The Language of Things, The Language of Cities, B Is for Bauhaus and many others).

As creators of the series DESIGN IS for Generator, we were honoured to have Mr. Sudjic for a live lecture on the future of design. Below are some the themes he touched upon in his analysis of the various aspects of the discipline.

On the subject of design:

Design is not a thing, it’s a method and it’s a lens to understand the world around us.

When the design museum was first launched back in the 1980s, you could have charted the history of industrial design through a selection of well chose chairs,  starting with the first industrially proiduced pieces in bentwood made by Thonet in Austria, then a tubular steel cantilever from Marcel Breuer at the Bauhaus, maybe  an Alvar Aalto in laminated plywood, a Charles Eames lounge chair, a plastic inection moulded chair from Joe Colombo, and so on. They would tell a technological and an aesthetic story, and though its not  primarily a story about taste, they would also make it clear that “function” is a much more complicated idea than simple utility, comfort is not an objective quality, it is influence by how things look, the associations that certain shapes and colours have.

Since those days, design is more and more about non material things. The smart phone has abolished the camera, the music player, the GPS, the tape recorder, the map, the book, the book shelf, and the book store, the alarm clock. A software upgrade can have the effect of creating an entirely new appliance.

There are also fluctuations in how designers see themselves,. When I was very young, people read Victor Papanek, who as violently opposed to design as a marketing tool used to persuade us to buy stuff we did not need, Then we had the emergence of the  superstar designer, whose signature alone was presumed to justify the price, and now another generation see papanek as a hero, hate the idea of consumerism, see design as a social project, or a critical one, and understand design as much a matter of asking questions as of answering them. What interests me at the moment is the idea of the home, We see it as a permanent, solid unchanging place that allows us to be ourselves, but in fact it is changing as fast as every other aspects of out lobes.

On new technologies:

Amazon has transformed the way that we consume, killing off a lot of shopping malls and department stores, and it is also inviting use to allow total strangers into our homes using digital locks to make deliveried direct to our refrigerates, through Alexa and the Echo voice recognition system it has started the beginning of the end of the key board as the prime ey that we interface with the digital world, potentially as huge a development as the smart phone.

And the pace of change is accelerating,  Facebook’s hеadquarters in Silicon Valley is in a building that once housed the hq of Sun Microsystems, a company that, like so many tech companies was started by Stanford graduate students,  but from an earlier generation, the 1980s. Sun grew into a huge international company with tens of thousands of employees, built is building not much more than a dozen years ago, then vanished,. Facebook’s designers treated it like a relic from the industrial revolution and trashed it.

Meanwhile the work place is looking more and more like the domestic world. The new silicon valley offices are full of pool tables  and sofas, and kitchen tables and chairs that don’t match.

Social media have abolished the idea of privacy, and in some ways pushed us back into the middle ages with twitter acting as a kind of digital lynch mob.

 

On the future of design:

I  always remember the remark once made by Buckminster Fuller, the maverick American engineer, inventor and home spun philosopher best known for the geodesic dome, “the best way to predict the future is to design it yourself” I am not sure that Fuller always got things right – his three wheel Dymaxion Car was an instant failure when it  crashed into a pedestrian on its launch at the Chicago Worlds Fair. One person who certainly designed the future was Steve Jobs, but even he, just eleven years ago when he launched the first Apple Smart Phone could not, I think have predicted how that one pocket sized object was going to change everything, Without the smart phone there would be no Uber, , no Tinder no AirBnB  They have transformed the way that we fall in love, how we navigate the city, and the character of entire cities. Barcelona, New York and San Francisco are all horrified at the impact on rents caused by the way.

About the role of the design museum:

The design museum in London sees its role as showing everyone the value of design, we have built a large audience: one million people have visited us since we opened in november 2016,  we stage exhibitions that range from the fashion of Azzedine Alaia, to the design of the Ferrari.

We communicate through our temporary exhibtions, we are careful about what we collect, because for us we want to be able to show them, not to hide them in a vault, A collection is costly to maintain and archive, and since we are  private charity rather than a state supported institution we have to be careful about how we use our resources.

A lot of people are opening museums about: Barcelona, Shenzen, for example, Until now, design has had a presence  in museums either as a department in big general museums, or else as small and specialst. What we see now is a sense that design is as much a part of the wider cultural landscape as art.

Moderna / industry + craft

A few days before the closing of the Polish exhibition Moderna / Industry and craft currently being displayed at the Polish Institute in Sofia, we catch up with one of its two curators: Agnieszka Jacobson-Cielecka, who worked with Paweł Grobelny on the project. The organizer behind this exhibition is Muzeum Regionalne w Stalowej Woli.
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What is the message of the exhibition in a nutshell? 
The main aim of the exhibition is to show how modernist way of thinking where industrial design meets crafted detail in works contemporary world, and how it effects the project. We present modernism as a way of thinking not styling.
What prompted you to tackle the question of Modernism? 
What is its contemporary interpretation through the selected designs in your exhibition? 
What does Modernism mean to you?
Exhibition partner and producer is Regional Museum in Stalowa Wola. And Stalowa Wola is a town in south east Poland which has been built from scratch in 1930ties. In the middle of forest, visionaries of development of industrial Poland, between first and second World War decided to place there still industry and a modernist town around. Not because they like modernism, but because it was a time when modernism has been a style to built. And this town very well preserved is a pure example of modernism, in its best version. Perfect proportions, human scale, balanced combination between mass / industrial and individual detail. The Museum deals with a history of that place, want to restore value and pride of this design tradition.
So for working with the Museum for years it was a natural continuity of former projects: Unpolished, which was about new polish design after transformation and Polished Up, illustrating first successful cooperations between designers and industry. In terms of that modernism means kind of maturity. Yes, Polish design matures.
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/textile: Falbanca/
How did the selection process develop? 
What things do you look for when considering a project to represent?
What is the projects’ concept role in conveying the message of the exhibition?
 Both of us, Pawel Grobelny and are active on design scene of year, so our knowledge of designers / designs / products / market is up to date. So when we define the criteria (in this case it was: craft meeting industry meeting designer meeting craft all three had to be present), and we do a list of objects / designers / products. Than we look at them together. Both are very important for good exhibition: internal and external cohesion. If the exhibition is cohesive on the very basic visual level you just want to know more, to understand the the essence.
To what do you attribute the positive developments in the Polish design sector?
Time? Maturing? Industry understands better and better that original, unique design can be an added value. And that properly conducted design processes help to avoid mistakes, loose of money, failure. And designers are better prepared to do it. They understand better that the role of designer is to became business partner for investor. to share responsibility. But there is still long way to go.
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/Pleated Vase Set (Plisowanki) by Agnieszka Bar for Manufactured Culture/
You are very much connected to the development of a new form of design education in Poland – can you already see the impact of its implementation? 
What are your short term ambitions in relations to design education in Poland?
 Yes, I am the artistic director of School of Form, in Poznań (Design Faculty at University SWPS). It is a very new school, started in 2011. In the shortest words it is design and humanities educational concept. We teach students to ask the right questions, to be human centred, to research. We connect new technologies like robots, parametric, arduino with hand craft: wood textile ceramics. And it works: we had so far two graduations, and the third one is just starting in few weeks and our firs alumni are doing very well. Winning competitions, being invited to international conferences and getting jobs or approved for MA at really good schools like DAE, RCA etc
We just got an accreditation to start with our own MA, so we do in 2017. Last year we opened part time studies and English path where we have amazing very international group. But for me the most significant part is that our activity and presence is influencing state schools, and whole scene is changing.
Do you think it’s easier for Polish creatives to get work these days? 
What challenges do they face, if any?
I think it is. Slowly. The awareness is better. Design becomes a job, not a hobby.
Do you have a favourite object in the exhibition – why?
 Hard to say. When I do exhibitions I keep my likes and dislikes away.
Has the industry changed for better or worse?
 Industry has changed and is changing constantly because the world is changing. Industry has to make sense. Otherwise it will collapse. So we cannot avoid the changes, even if we think they are for worse. He have to accommodate them. And we have a choice who we are cooperating with: is it fair trade? Is it ethical, responsible, sustainable.
What’s currently on your professional reading list?
 Juhani Pallasmaa, The Thinking Hand. Amazing book.
What design events would you be recommending to visit during 2017?
 I believe in smaller and more focused events. I would love to have a time rather to go to St Etienne Biennale or Kortrijk than Milan. And welcome to Poland, for Gdynia Design Days this summer (30.06- 09.07) and Łodz Design Festival this autumn (03-08.10).
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/Maria Jeglinska “Drawn Object”/

ALICE RAWSTHORN

Alice Rawsthorn is the most preeminent, acclaimed, and relevant design critic of our time. She studies the subject’s history, juxtaposes important developments with their reflection in the present, and forecasts their future influence. Her work clearly shows how design changes and optimises our lives into being more meaningful, resistant, optimistic, and well-functioning. Rawsthorn’s many years of expertise include being a columnist for a number of prestigious publications (NY Times, Frieze, W), authoring  books (Hello World: Where Design Meets Life, Yves Saint Laurent: A Biography), lecturing (TED, World Economic Forum – Davos, Design Indaba), as well as working on curator projects through which she’s reached millions of people worldwide. Alice Rawsthorn excites with her unique style, and she’s become the absolute authority on design through her professional achievements. Her Instagram is a daily must for all design lovers.

Q. What was your experience from your volunteering at the Calais / Le Jungle refugee centre – what will be the one thing you would like to advocate in front of the international community? How would you describe the contribution design has on dealing with the refugee crisis?

A. Volunteering at La Jungle in Calais was an emotionally wrenching experience, which was heartbreakingly sad and profoundly shocking that people should be allowed to live in such inhumane conditions, but always interesting and, at times, hugely inspiring because of the courage and resilience of individual refugees and the people who are helping them. It was also heartening to see how the global design community has responded to the refugee crisis both by developing more constructive ways of tackling traditional challenges, such as designing cleaner, safer forms of shelter and by pioneering the application of new technologies, like the data visualization software, which has proved so effective in helping us to understand the complexities of an intensely perilous and volatile situation.

Yet design could make an even more meaningful contribution to the efforts to address the crisis, if it was part of a radical reconstruction of the global refugee system. Alexander Betts, director of the Refugee Studies Centre in Oxford, England, gave a brilliant talk about this at TED 2016. He suggests modernising the system by giving refugees the opportunities they need to be economically productive, including the right to work and freedom of movement; using data analysis to ensure that they are sent to places where their skills will be most useful; and issuing internationally recognised humanitarian visas, as Brazil has done. Those visas would enable refugees to pay, say, €200 to fly from Bodrum to Berlin, rather than €1,000 to a human trafficker. If those proposals were implemented, design could play a useful role in ensuring that the new system is robust, sensitive, constructive and sustainable.

Q. Your lecture is titled “How do we need – and want – design to help?” Could you please elaborate a bit on the theme? What are some of the ways we would like design to help?

A. Design has played many different roles at different times and in different contexts, but it has always had one elemental guise as an agent of change that can help us to adapt to changes in any area of our lives, and to try to ensure that they affect us for better, not worse. This means that the role of designers will be in a constant state of flux, especially in as turbulent a time as this one. I’m planning to discuss some of the critical changes that design can help us to deal with in the talk. Sadly, I’ll be spoilt for choice, as there are so many. Helping to reform the global refugee system. Arresting the deepening environmental crisis. Reducing the appalling economic imbalance between rich and poor. Finding useful applications for a torrent of ever more powerful technologies. Redesigning social services to make them fit for purpose. Enabling us to express the nuances of our increasingly fluid personal identities.

Q. Design solves problems. Are there circumstances when design creates conflicts and in what manner they affect the wellbeing of society?

A. As the US social designer Emily Pilloton put it, design at its best not only helps us to solve problems, but to do so “with grace and foresight.” But design isn’t always beneficial, it has the power to damage us. Just as good design can help us to live more efficiently, enjoyably, responsibly and fairly, bad design can be infuriating, disruptive, dispiriting and destructive. And design is a ubiquitous force that determines the quality of every aspect of our lives. We can’t ignore it. All we can do is try to ensure that design affects us positively, not negatively, by trying to understand it.

Q. Creative minds and creative solutions are born out of adversary circumstances (political instability, war and poor economic state) or the other way around – in peaceful and abundant times of progress? Which one of these situations has proven to play a bigger role on the development of design as a discipline?

A. As I said, design is an agent of change. Some of those changes stem from adversity, and others from progress. The challenge is to apply design so sensitively and intelligently so that we can turn even the most ominous changes to our advantage, as the pioneers of computer design did in the post-war period. Many early landmarks in computing came from technologies developed for military use during World War II. Look at how radically they have changed our lives since then, and at their promise for the future.

Q. The perception of design has changed substantially over the last years. It is more human-centred and social and recognised as a beneficial tool for society than ever… What would you like to see tackled by design in the future? How do you envision the development of the role of the designer? 

A. It has been great to see designers being entrusted with an ever more eclectic range of increasingly ambitious challenges. An example is the explosion of activity in social design, where designers collaborate with specialists from other disciplines to redesign social services, like caring for the elderly or helping the unemployed to return to work. Rather than simple designing websites or brochures, which explain the decisions taken by other people, as they did in the past, designers are increasingly part of the decision-making process. So they should be. But designers must earn the right to play these ambitious new roles, by becoming more sensitive and generous in their approach to collaboration, and ensuring that design culture is as diverse and dynamic as possible.

Q. What is the most transformative conversation you have ever had with someone on the subject of design?

A. I’ve had so many fascinating conversations about design that I can’t single one out, but I attended a lecture that had a particularly powerful effect on me at the Architectural Association in London in 1980, just after I’d left university. It was part of a series of evening lectures called something like “The Psychology of the City” given by a guy I’d never heard of. He described how the physical structure of a city affects our psychological experience of being there, specifically how the concentric circles of the canals in Amsterdam create a conservative culture because you walk round and round only to end up in the same place. It made perfect sense, and has defined how I’ve viewed design ever since. The lecturer was the then-unknown Rem Koolhaas.

Q. Would you say that you have favourite themes to write about on the subject of design? 

A. The reason I chose to focus on design is that, as it changes constantly, forcing me to make new discoveries and reassess my thinking. I really enjoy that challenge. I also love the chance to enthuse other people about the work of inspiring figures in design history, who have been unfairly neglected, and analysing how design is responding to broader political and cultural issues that I find interesting and important, from the global issues like the refugee crisis, to personal ones, such as gender identity.

Q. What is the greatest motivator in your work – the things that support you when you are frustrated, the ones that give you confidence you perform a meaningful and valuable work?

A. My primary motivation is that I believe in the importance of my chosen subject: that design is one of the most powerful tools at our disposal to improve our quality of life, but the misconceptions about it prevent us from making the most of it. Boringly, a secondary motivation is the constant struggle to get better. I’ve been very lucky and have had a fantastic career with lots of wonderful opportunities, but I still feel that I have to prove myself all over again from scratch whenever I start something new. I always hoped that feeling would diminish with age, but sadly it hasn’t.

Q. You are a very sophisticated woman with a strong attitude to fashion. But if you had to wear a “uniform”, what would it look like?

A. Thank you, but I’d never wear a uniform. I think what you wear is such an important part of your personal identity, that I’d hate the idea of it being forced upon me.

Q. What is something you are curious about to see and learn more about when in Bulgaria?

A. I’m really looking forward to coming to Bulgaria, because I haven’t been before. I am delighted to have the opportunity to learn more about Bulgarian design and architecture, and also your incredible artisanal heritage.

The interview was taken on the occasion of Alice Rawsthorn’s participation at the Forum of One Design Week (Plovdiv, 10 – 19 June 2016) and appeared in LIGHT magazine.