Newsletter 10

Programme Structure
Carla Cipolla
(Conference Scientific Secretary), Politecnico di Milano

The Conference Program is ready! It has been conceived to find an effective compromise between different, equally important demands: to give many design researchers the opportunity to present their work and the time to discuss it with others; to listen to several plenary session speeches; to participate in debates on specific topics and, finally, to have time and spaces for open discussions that prepare the ground for the final statements of the whole conference.

There are 4 main components in the program : 3 conference streams and 1 visualisations exhibition. These are:

  1. SELECTED PAPERS MODULES. This is, of course, the Conference core: 138 papers are presented in 6 parallel themes of 4 modules each. The themes and the module sub-themes emerged from the clusterization of selected papers. They are:
    1. VISIONS (Ways of living, Ways of producing);
    2. PROPOSALS (Daily life solutions, Enabling Systems);
    3. TOOLS (Design Theories, Design Methods).
  2. PRESENTATIONS BY INVITED SPEAKERS. 8 international speakers have been asked to give an overview of their countries or regions in terms of design research and its contributions in changing the change. As a whole, they outline the state of design research for sustainability worldwide. These presentations will take place each day, in late morning plenary sessions. They are:

    Bill Moggridige, USA; Geetha Narayanan, INDIA; Luisa Collina, ITALY; Mugendi M Rithaa, SOUTH AFRICA; Aguinaldo dos Santos, BRAZIL; Lou Yongqi, CHINA; Fumi Masuda, JAPAN; Cris Ryan, AUSTRALIA.
  3. EMERGING ISSUES PROCESS. It is a series of activities (a round table, an international project session, an open discussion) that aim to produce the final output of the conference in a participatory way and make the first steps in possible post-conference initiatives. As a whole, they can be seen as a bottom-up process of theme generation. These initiatives will take place in late afternoon plenary sessions, on the first and second days, and in 6 parallel sessions and in the final plenary final one on the third day.
  4. VISUALISATIONS EXHIBITION. It is a loop of video projections visualising the output of some selected papers. The aim is to promote the idea that design research can also be a process leading to highly communicative results.


  • The meeting of a worldwide community of design researchers is, in fact, both a cultural and a political event. An event like this should leave a trace (in the community?s culture) and give directions (about future steps to be taken). For this reason, the Conference will produce a final document in the form of a short text pinpinting emerging issues and indicating promising directions of research. We can call it: Design research agenda for sustainability:
  • In a previous design conference (the Cumulus Design Conference, held in Kyoto the 28th of March 2008) a declaration, linking design and sustainability, was signed by a large number of design schools. This declaration is not only highly symbolic (having being signed in Kyoto) but also potentially relevant. The Design research agenda for sustainability, which will be the main output of the Changing the Change Conference can be considered one of the possible implementations of the Kyoto Declaration: a document that must give research directions in order to develop the necessary design knowledge to become real. That is, for us, to Change the Change.
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Social design/debate/1
Victor Margolin
(International Advisory Committee Member) University of Illinois, Chicago

I would like to add a few words to the discussion about what terms might be most appropriate to express the social orientation that we would like Changing the Change to address. I have been using the term "social design" quite a lot and am more or less satisfied with it. In English, it has a reference to the profession of social work and suggests design with an explicit social agenda. It also relates to the term "social action," which in the United States suggests social concern. On the other hand, it is evident that from a semantic view, all design is social, a point that should not be overlooked.

I have problems with the term "innovation," which has now been adopted as a corporate buzzword and some folks are even interested in substituting it for the word "design." "Innovation" is also related to the industrialized cultures and with its corporate connotations may not be appropriate for discussing design in developing country situations or design for a small scale. As many know, there is a movement which argues that bringing capitalism and entrepreneurship to poor people is the best way to lift them out of poverty. I don't disagree with that possibility but am against making it the principal model of development as some wish to do. In a paper on social design that I wrote with my wife, we distinguished the terms "market design" and "social design," saying that social design could be design for the means.

We also wrote about design for special needs such as old age, disabled people, and really poor people. but that is too limited in the sense we are considering Changing the Change. I think we do need to indicate that the kind of design that will be discussed at the Changing the Change conference is design directed specifically at improving the quality of life. It is accountable to social results and not simply to successful market exchange. We should understand these results to be environmental, economic, and cultural.
I am still satisfied with the term "social design" which is growing in use and interest. If we choose another term, it should have the same connotation of "improving social welfare".

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Social design/debate/2
Josephine Green
Social Foresight & Innovation, Philips Design

I agree with Victor Margolin that the word innovation has lost its power and its purpose. Innovation has become the latest buzz word and hype and has become increasingly meaningless and empty. It is not innovation in itself, but what we innovate, how we innovate and who innovates that is the issue, after all Hitler innovated! When, however, social is used in connection with innovation then, as Ezio comments, things change. I believe the amount to which things change depends on how narrowly or broadly we define the concept.  A strict definition of social innovation refers to new ideas (products, services, models) developed to fulfil unmet social needs. But then in this changing world what is a social need? Is a better relationship between what is produced and what is consumed a social need? Is more community a social need? Is a richer relationship with the biosphere a social need?  Like innovation, sustainability has lost much of its more transformative potential given that it is also a buzzed and hyped word. Also, as we know, it is too often commonly understood in its more limited definition of the environment.  

But let's forget semantics for a moment and actually look at what needs doing. Most of us would agree that society  needs  to re-address and re-invent much of its industrial legacy, including new patterns of production and consumption, new  social "industries" such as health, care, education, new  individual and collective lifestyles, new relationships with nature and new organizational and cultural models.  Furthermore it needs to do this through a greater individual and collective empowerment and responsibility. Is this about social innovation, is it about sustainability, does it matter?

Rather what is important is not what separates or distinguishes them (always inherent in labels and definitions) but what unites them, and what they have in common. I believe that what unites all three concepts is firstly the vision and purpose to improve the quality of life and to be "accountable for positive social results" (Victor Margolin). In this purpose they also share the same territory, namely the need to re-address and re-invent much of our industrial legacy and to shift the emphasis from the economic and the market to the social and people, which leads me to the subject of social design. In all honesty, I did not know, until reading Victor's pieces,  the accepted definition of social design, related  to a more social work and social workers  reference Rather for me design was suffering from the same fate as innovation and that just as innovation has lost meaning so has design.

Yet what to use? Design on its own is too broad and can be too easily co-opted to the old, and Industrial Design reflects the past not the future. By putting social before design things change, things open up.  Social Design offers vistas of social change and transformation and emphasizes its relevancy and meaningfulness for the 21st century. Put simply a broader meaning to social innovation/sustainability equals and is complimented by the broader meaning of social design. A design for the next era.

I believe that the theme of the conference Round Table on  Design, Social Innovation and Sustainability is  increasingly associated in the collective imaginary with a more structural and systemic change and transformation. To limit them or to spend too much time on semantics and definitions will only play to the old game and will reduce their transformative qualities. At a time when everything is negotiable and everything can be changed I believe it is counter productive to narrow down definitions too precisely. I am looking forard to  understand the synergies,  where and how they fit together and most importantly the role of design and the implications for design in terms of design research, new design competencies and capabilites and new design frontiers.

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Social design/debate/3
Ezio Manzini
(Conference Chair), Politecnico di Milano

There are different interpretations of the expression "social design", for instance the Victor Margolin's and the Josephine Green's ones. I think that, in principle, both them are acceptable. But, not to create misunderstandings, we should find different names and arrive to commonly recognised definitions. However, independently from the names, considering the intersection between design and social issues, it seems to me that different kinds of design activities appear and should be promoted.

One of them is a design with an explicit social agenda: a new design field where some designers specialises in collaborating with social workers to solve specific, acute social problems. The other one is more general and refers to the whole design community. In this second perspective, all the designers, whatever their specialisation can be, have to redefine their aims, and re-orient them towards the new emerging social demands.

Even is both these actions are important, for me, the biggest challenge today is on the second one: to develop the design knowledge that is needed to improve the welfare of the whole society, while we move towards sustainability. That is, while we have all to learn how to succeed in living better consuming less. And improving the quality of our social fabric.

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Human spirit and the scope of design
Aguinaldo dos Santos
Federal University of Paraná

A long time ago someone has said "you shall love your neighbor as yourself". It is a challenging principle in a time where happiness often is achieved by ignoring your neighbor rights and needs. However, searching for sustainable ways of living requires from us the adoption of a principle far more challenging: "you shall love people of future generations that you donīt even know that will exist and that are not even necessarily related to you". If the previous principle has already proved to be difficult to implement, if not impossible in many regions of the globe, what could be said about this late enlarged principle?

Hence, I understand that the most fundamental (radical) improvement that could lead the all society towards sustainability lies on the human spirit. Using the words of our colleague Geetha Narayanan (Newsletter 07): that is what makes each of us humans, that which endures beyond matter.

Yes, induction of market forces can drive sustainability forward faster. Yes, speeding up changes in consumption patterns can be achieved through education. And, yes, we should work to include sustainability on the main agenda of every world leader. However, it is the values we hold, the beliefs we cherish and the ideals to which we are dedicated are determinants on the future we are shaping today and that is beyond conventional design.

Some people could say that improvements on the human spirit are outside of the scope of design. Contrary to this opinion I believe that Design as well as any other profession can make a direct contribution to changes or improvements in the society values and aspirations and that does not mean transforming design into a religion. Improving the transparency on the ethics of production of a given product or implementing processes that enable consumerīs co-responsibility for a product life cycle are examples of how designers can operate as channels for positive change.

In South America design clearly is far from delivering the changes that it potentially could provide or induce. The good news is that emergent changes on the direction of sustainability are expanding in numbers, involving since large corporations until self-employed workers operating in their own home. On many of these cases the change is so positive that theme for design could be more "supporting-the-change" or "disseminating-the-change" than actually change the change. At the same time, the continent currently presents large economical and social changes that in many instances replicate environmental or social mistakes that have already being made by developed nations in the past. Here is an opportunity to change the change.

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D i s e Ņ o
Andrea Mendoza
Phd student, Politecnico di Milano

In Spanish, Design is written with ņ, Diseņo, and although it could sound banal, that ņ gives account of an original way to face the world.
That single letter talks about a huge difference regarding the way in which design is assumed, because for us, in the countries where the ņ is used, design is the art of "darse maņa" (meaning the ability to use ones "knacks" to solve a given challenge).

The inventors of this funny letter were monks who had to fit just one metallic movable type, instead of two, in the mechanical press; they gave themselves the "maņa" to make the sound (usually written with gn or nh) fit that single space...

Now, how many monks or "maņosos" are there going to be attending the CtC conference?
Would the activation of "maņa" offer new insights regarding possibilities to improve life conditions in urban dwellings?
An initial answer is what I would like to share here by means of a personal exploration during the PhD research.

As a student, I remember having arrived in Italy with lots of expectations among which, the idea of learning about "sustainable" supermarkets being this idea a clear sign of my lack of vision regarding the way in which the design practice has stuck on mainstream possibilities of producing with LCA standards, eco-materials, etc., a way that neglects the urgency to develop a design culture and thus hinders the real need for research.

While being immersed in the design world, and while starting to address the relevance of looking the "maņosos" ways in a series of case study cities, I found out that a hybrid car, a more accurate LCA, a "sustainable" supermarket do help, but are not the actual solution; indeed it seems that what is needed is having design as a prompter of creative behaviours at a private/personal scale so that "users" feel encouraged to change, to fit into the planetary limited conditions; design/diseņo then can help awaking user's "non-professional" creativity (their maņas), to solve on self-basis daily needs. And this, let?s face it, will not "extinct" designers, rather than that, it will open brand new possibilities.
Along the way I found designers feeling threatened because, "if we don't give shape to a product or a service then: what are we called to do?!". For many, design is call to develop eco-products, toolkits, guidelines- but fortunately those stances are changing. Nowadays it is acknowledgeable that designers could help users not just to consume "better" but, to consume less.

I hope that the CtC will not be a moment to blissful talk and easily agreement but that discussions and positive disagreements (between designers coming from all over the world and thus using all sorts of eņes) take place, so that the resulting agenda (which undeniable addresses a political phenomena) help us to face the "maņana" (Spanish for tomorrow) with more: maņa.

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