Thursday, 14 January 2010

design: by all? - day 1, morning

i will post here my notes on the 7th european conference on design promotion, that was held at the cité des sciences et de l'industrie, paris, on 10 and 12 january 2010.


anne marie boutin, president of apci, the french agency for design promotion, opened the conference accounting some of the achievements and challenges for design promotion that should be addressed during the two days of the event. the opening was followed by jean schneider, organizer of the conference, who told the audience that after the frustrating results of the copenhagen summit cop15, last december, designers should encompass the challenge to recover the issue of sustainability with all the strength it deserves.

small change:

and it was with this spirit that professor nabeel hamdi presented his inspiring opening lecture on "design and the art of enablement". he is an architect, professor emeritus of oxford brooks university, and the author of the book "small change". and professor hamdi, who defines himself as a "development practitioner", said that we have to broaden the concept of design to address the social needs and moral accountability - and addressing poverty we are not dealing with minorities, but with the large majority of the world’s population. only 5% of habitations in the world are designed – where are the architects working instead of the other 95%?, he asked.

in his activity helping to solve problems for this majority, he had also been called an "urban acupuncturist", for promoting small changes that will lead to greater achievements in the course of time for these populations. human processes need design structures, but the challenge is to reach a balance of how much structure do we need and how much freedom is left for us inside this structured world. as an example, he quoted a story about london bus drivers that, questioned about the frequent complaints from customers for not stopping at bus stops, asked: how could we stay in our timetables if we stop to every waving passenger at the bus stops?

concluding, he pointed that we need designers to act as catalysts, understanding the real needs of users and working together with them, and to reverse the question to what is the least we can do to get the things done.

(note: keep an eye on his new book, to be published next april - "the placemaker's guide to building community")

dott cornwall:

next speaker was the director of dott cornwall and former chief design officer of the uk design council, andrea siodmok. cornwall won a competition promoted by the uk design council among several cities to run and host the second project “designs of the time” – or simply dott. The project involves the uk design council, cornwall council and the university college falmouth.

(by the way – don't you agree with me this is a very interesting concept? to run a competition among cities to choose which one will receive a programme - this way, the applicant cities get compromised with the scope of the project and are co-responsible with it from the very beginning.)

the programme has a very daring “envelope-type”, that uses design methods and approaches to co-design with the community. according to andrea, it acts as a catalyst, or a hot house, in the belief that if you intend to promote changes, you have to be engaged in the dynamic process of change in the society, as a blank page that has to be written in a co-designing process with the society itself. the idea of a blank page begins from their website, where the people from cornwall was invited to collaborate sending pictures of “designs of the time” from the region. and every picture is being uploaded to compose a photo-wall at the website's main page.

one of the tools used to reach the local population is the blog designing communities, which uses tools as mobile instant messaging to involve people in designing local services.

design council has a long term framework of ten years for dott projects, and took 18 months to plan and release dott cornwall, which is run by a small team composed by andrea siodmok, john thackara and robert o'dowd, with a small window of time to deal with – a one-year contract.

according to andrea, the most rewarding thing about dott are the community-led projects and to assemble the specialists to work together with the community. it doesn't really matters were the projects come from: transport, health, skills, redefining services and other community projects are the main goals. at a first moment the local people expected designers to come and design things for them, not to develop ethnographic studies or co-design with them. in doing so, it was given to the population the real opportunity to influence on the country's policy (because whatever happens there will echo to the rest of the country)

the current european projects tends to be much prescriptive, and it is difficult to bridge the gap between massive governmental or international projects and small design firms – and that gap has to be crossed. design council and programes like dott are trying to fill this role, sometimes translating huge documents to real-world language.

dott will promote a think tank meeting in march, and a conference in the middle of the year to showcase the projects so far being developed.

city eco-lab:

nathalie arnauld, design and environment project leader from the cité du design saint-étienne, was the next speaker, talking about another project, the city eco-lab, that deals with the same perspective of bringing the citizen as an actor of change himself.

in the methodology adopted, the first step was to spot people who could make things change, and to promote meetings and workshops. and also to find examples of other places around the world where people have similar problems and how these were solved, or what solutions are being considered, sharing these ideas with the local community.

one of the projects being developed is a food project to offer fresh products (not freezed) from local producers within an 80 kilometres range. the project also teaches people to optimize their own gardens to grow some vegetables. there is also a project on transportation, showing the many possibilities and advantages of using bikes, besides developing new uses for it.

the city eco-lab is embracing the challenge on how to show (visually) to the population how every little action have an impact, specially addressing the challenge of the european union to have reduced the co2 emissions, the energy consumption and the use of renewable energy sources each one by 20% at the year 2020. and in this context, one of the roles design should play, according to nathalie, was to pull ahead and to value the innovative behaviours.

habitat and participation:

the last speaker in the first morning was daniel mignolet, head of the belgian project habitat and participation. he begun talking about how shocking was the finding that 15% of belgium population is beyond the level of poverty. the contact with the government made them feel that the proposed changes might take 50 years to be implemented. so, the project turned to the citizens to enable them to participate and to believe they could promote change.

it was presented a scale of the level of participation of citizens (proposed by sherry arnstein, 1969), going from the absence of participation where manipulation is the general role, to the partnerships, and empowerment of an effective participation:

daniel presented other models – as in the triangle of mobilization, where the needs, desires and opportunities interact to generate motivation – and pointed that citizens should not be invited only to fulfil an empty role in the process. according to him, designers should consider how to address and involve the population, since the politicians and governments had failed to do so. there is no meaning in inviting people to come to a community centre at night, tired after their daily journeys, to show them how wonderful will be the project of the new bridge and ask them only to choose what colour it should be painted!

the ways we manage things has to go through a change, and it is mean to come from local, regional communities and governments, not from central or national governmental bodies.

– that concluded an inspiring first morning of activities!


Ronald said...

Dear Gabriel,

Thank you for your kindness in using part of your time to share with us the important seminar you are attending. it is interesting to see how the scope of the designer evolves to new fields, and how "make it happen" is now part of the project, in this public subjects. We should learn it to use it down here in Brazil. Best regards!! Ronald Kapaz

gabriel patrocínio said...


thanks for your comment - there are indeed a lot of things that could be adapted for use in our reality. that's precisely why i am here: to learn, to research and develop concepts and models that later might be useful to help further develop the design scenery in brazil. that is my goal.

check the next posts with the rest of the conference notes.


Ana Sofia said...

Olá Gabriel,

gostei muito de acompanhar essas discussões atualíssimas pelo seu depoimento. Que bom que você está aí! Que bom que você tem essa disposição de divulgar, informar e partilhar. Que bom que você é da ESDI! Continuarei acompanhando seus renovadores (em muitos sentidos) relatos... Abração