Newsletter 01

Dear friends and colleagues...
Ezio Manzini
(Conference Coordinator)

These newsletters intend to facilitate the Changing the Change conference preparation. It will anticipate programmes, abstracts and speakers profiles. And it will give information on different kinds of Conference-related news. But not only. It also intends to be the platform for a discussion that will start with short interventions of different authors and will continue on the newsletter-related blog (the CtC Blog).  This discussion will, I hope, continue beyond the conference itself.

In particular, in the next months, from now to January 2008, the newsletter main goal is to trigger design researchers to submit paper proposals coherent with the conference aims. This is not an easy task: Changing the Change wants to be a research conference with a strong and ambitious political goal: to focus on the design research potentialities in the transition towards a sustainable knowledge society. And to present them to the same design community (to make it more confident in its possibilities) and to other social actors (to contribute to the social conversations on the future and/or to solve some specific problems).

This conference, in the organisers' intentions, should show that these design research potentialities exist. That they can be found in all the design application fields (form products to communication, from interiors to services, from ITC to crafts, from medical devices to fashion) and in all the regions of the world (from the most mature industrial societies to the emerging ones).  Finally, it wants to state that the possibility to play a positive role in the transition towards sustainability is not only an issue for those designers who, in the past years, have taken the first steps in this direction, but it is a challenge for every designer and every design researcher.

To do all that, Changing the Change has to receive papers presenting and discussing stimulating design research results: visions, proposals and tools developed by design researchers (or better: by interdisciplinary teams where designers played an important role), using specific design skills and presented in an highly communicative way (i.e. with good visualization materials in order to create a parallel exhibition: visions and proposals from  design research world wide).

You can leave a reply to Ezio Manzini
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An attractive challenge
Jorge Frascara
(International advisory committee coordinator)

Changing the Change is a working conference. It has a clear aim: to discuss the role of design in moving society toward making human life sustainable. We, however, do not know how to reach that aim. Finding ways to meet this goal is actually the purpose of the conference.

The organizers have resisted the notion of breaking interpreting the scope of the meeting beyond its heading. The conference itself will hopefully do that; the participants' proposals and experience, their ideas and visions, will flesh out the territory of possibilities of responses to the challenges we face.

The conference is organized by designers and directed at designers. We believe that designers could play a role in changing the change, in re-directing the development of our world. Is it on the basis of our capacity to work systematically toward imagining and designing futures, our capacity to turn our ideas into images and then make them take form in the real world? Weren't Jules Verne as an author and Flash Gordon as a character highly instrumental in shaping the future, just because they made it visible, and therefore desirable? How can sustainability become desirable? How can it enter the equation of quality, of what designers and clients place at the top of their lists?

Some initiatives are promising: some international corporations are looking at zero waste, while others have increased their allocation to research on alternative sources of energy, and on more efficient ways of generating energy. The City of New York is looking at turning all its taxicabs into hybrid cars. Too little too late? Not at all. Fifty years ago environmental conservation was totally absent from the big corporations? agendas. Maybe these are the first steps toward sustainability. Including the notion in the agenda is useful, more than useful: important.

Other interesting things that involve more paradigmatic shifts are happening at the other end of the spectrum, like in the interior of Argentina, where I was last May. Cooperatives are developing interesting production and distribution systems, helping the locals, recovering cultural history, and using zero environmental impact technologies. All materials used are natural, renewable, and indigenous to the region.

Insights discover interstices that allow action in the most unimaginable places. We are looking for testimonies to this, we are looking for actual, factual experiences of implementing novel design approaches that find opportunities where everybody sees only challenges, and spaces, however narrow, that permit innovative action. The conference is looking for ideas to share. The scale is irrelevant. Large or small. The changes proposed could be paradigmatic or gradual. We need to explore and discuss models of intervention.

To sum up:

  • How can a new direction be applied to the way things are, and change our culture into a sustainable one? 
  • How could design research contribute to this change? 
  • How could designers add the notion of sustainability to their list, affecting the way in which products, systems, and communications are designed?
  • How could we put together a critical mass of successful case histories, that could serve as models to be adapted and followed?
  • What other strategies could be useful to this end?
  • What are the strategies that have been successfully implemented in different contexts to make products, systems, and services, more compatible with the idea of sustainability?
  • What could be the role of communication design in this process?

We open this newsletter for contributions that could initiate the exploration of possibilities, and meet the challenge proposed by Changing the Change.

You can leave a reply to Jorge Frascara
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Changing the Change:
Design for Society

Victor Margolin
(International advisory committee coordinator)

The term "social design" is relatively new in the design vocabulary. Of course, one could say that all design is social in one way or another since its products  are introduced into society. But the term "social" as in "social work", "social welfare", or "social responsibility" also carries the connotation of serving a social good. Today, we understand "social good" to be a concept that is larger than the satisfaction of each member of society. In material terms, we now realize that it is not possible to satisfy everyone by providing the same level of goods and material consumption that is currently enjoyed by those in the most economically developed countries. We also know that consumption has its side effects. It pollutes the atmosphere and contributes to climate change; it produces waste material that is difficult to dispose of; and it absorbs resources that might be otherwise used for more beneficial purposes.

Thus, we can recognize social design as design that contributes to the social good. Recently, Archeworks, a one-year school in Chicago that focuses on social design projects, published a book called Design Denied. The book states that design which addresses social needs should be available to everyone though we know this not to be the case. So one aim of social design is to reach people who are currently not receiving the benefits of design. Another is to produce goods and services that avoid the negative effects of much that we currently produce.

Fortunately, the need to change our social habits has become more evident. Thoughtful people accept the reality of climate change. They also understand that
the gap between wealthy and poor people is growing and needs to be narrowed. And they know that we cannot create infinite landfills. Many people are already
addressing these problems, designers among them. The purpose of Changing the Change is to bring together people who are working in new directions that are intended to improve social wellbeing. Last June a group of designers and design educators met in Brighton, England, to discuss the future of design. The main point of their manifesto, Brighton 05/06/07, was that design?s principal purpose is human wellbeing.
This is a fundamental shift from the traditional aim of putting market success first. It demands more thought about what should be designed and how. Listening to
presentations of projects that are focused on these questions is a good start. From gatherings of people with shared objectives come social networks, new projects, and increased effects. That is what the organizers of Changing the Change are hoping for.

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Design, Flexibility and Sustainability
Luigi Bistagnino
(International advisory committee member)

Flexibility will be the slogan of the Torino World Design Capital events. Modern society requires flexible responses. Industrial enterprises and other social actors have to be capable of remodelling themselves and designing new products, services and systems to react to on-going change. But not only: they also have to do so to re-orient themselves towards a sustainable perspective. That is, as we say in this conference, to change the change.

Design must play a part in this innovation towards flexibility and sustainability,  making  the human factor central to the process, especially human values: ethical (sustainable development, care for the quality of the environment, energy reduction); social (relational systems); perceptive (cognitive sciences, not only ergonomics as ?adaptation of work to man?); functional (functional and symbolic factors); cultural (areas such as cultural heritage). In fact, innovation does not lie in continual technological updating, but in the way in which we look at a particular problem. And here is where design can play a major role.

Facing the issue of flexibility and sustainability, designers are seen more and more as antennas capable of picking up on changes before they are apparent. Their success in doing this is confirmed by the appeal of design schools and the numerous professions they feed: a whole range of activities, not just in industrial production, but also in ergonomics, virtuality, ecology, advertising and the web.

This kind of flexibility, which students learn in schools, becomes a fundamental tool for managing projects in diverse work settings. And the crucial point here is their capacity to relate and calibrate connections between function, seduction, innovation and adaptation to the context, i.e. of the diverse dimensions that are essential to good design. This approach is not easy, since market pressure tends to push for one of these variables at the expense of others, thereby influencing the quality of the final project. Vice versa, this complex sphere of human relationships should be the basis of all design activities aiming at realising products, services and systems (considering them in all their life cycle, from production to the end of their life).

In conclusion, the need for renewed attention to the centrality of human values in research into innovation for flexibility and sustainability leads us to consider the strategic role that these values can play within the whole process and to investigate all the interdisciplinary aspects of human factors today. That is, in view of the challenge of changing the change.

You can leave a reply to Luigi Bistagnino
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