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World Industrial Design Day 2010

June 30, 2010

As part of World Industrial Design Day 2010, I attended an event organised by Griffith UniversityQueensland University of Technology (QUT) and the Design Institute of Australia (DIA) held at Queensland College of Art (QCA), which included a screening of Gary Hustwit’s new film Objectified, and a panel discussion anchored by this year’s theme – “Human Solutions for a Resilient World”.

The panel comprised of local designers, educators and theorists including:

Professor Vesna Popovic, founder of the Industrial Design program at QUT, who has served as an executive board member with the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design (ICSID) and has been an ICSID advisor since 2001.

Adam Doyle, Studio Manager at Infinity Design, a product development company specialising in industrial design and the development of innovative products for manufacture. Infinity has been recognised for innovative work through many design awards including the Australian International Design Awards, an award of excellence from the Design Institute of Australia and the Professional Innovation Award from Iken.

Scott Cox, Creative Director of Formwerx, an award-winning product design and innovation consultancy who has won a British Design Award, Australian Design Award and Australian Design Mark. Scott has over 20 years design experience, 10 years of which was spent working in Europe’s leading consultancies.

Alexander Lotersztain, Director Derlot, who was named one the top 10 most influential faces in Design by Scene Design Quarterly 2007 and top 10 of 100 Young Brightest Australian Achievers Bayer/Bulletin Award, and has won many awards in both product and interior design. Alexander is also part of the Smart State Queensland Design Council Work Group for the Queensland Government, drafting the Smart State Design Strategy 2020.

Philip Whiting, Convenor of the Design program at QCA.

Tony Fry, Director of sustainability consultancy Team D/E/S, and Adjunct Professor at QCA, an independent scholar and a contributing editor of the e-journal Design Philosophy Papers and the e-zine Design Philosophy Politics.

The discussion began with each of the panel members responding to this year’s theme…

Vesna said we need to look outside ‘the product’ at the context, people, activity and culture for ‘the experience’ to make a truly human solution. Adam stated that previously industrial designers played a role in creating the unsustainable and urged they must now play a significant role in sustainability. He mused over how cost plays an intrinsic role influencing purchasing behaviour of the consumer, but truly informed consumers will drive change. Scott believes that education will play a big role in developing the next generation of industrial designers, however, Tony emphasised that we need to start making changes now, not simply learning about a ‘new way’, we need to be living a ‘new way’. Alex reminded us that sustainability is not a trend, but a necessity and it’s become a necessity because it’s starting to hurt our pockets. He too spoke passionately about our role as consumers, not just as designers and how we can vote with our wallets through the products we choose to buy, or choose not to buy. Alexander said we need to start thinking in terms of systems, creating new systems, not just new products. I have heard a lot of this discussed before, but moving onto the concept of creating systems that will sustain us, this is where the big change will take effect and it was at this point that things started to get interesting for me…

Tony Fry said that if he were to have titled the theme for this year’s World Industrial Design Day it would have been “Solutions for a Human Fragile World”. The thing at risk is us! He said there are three things we need to do as designers: 1. Learn to eliminate, not just within our designs, but really ask, does this product need to be made at all? 2. Learn to serve sustainment before capital and move quantity to quality, and 3. Embrace being a designer, not a specialist, but a generalist (even though you need to be both). At this point I lost myself in listening to Tony and stopped note taking. I found his thoughts all-embracing and hard-hitting, but we need to be hard-hitting now as we are slowly killing ourselves by not admitting there is really a problem with the way we live, produce and consume.

Question time ran over, which showed the enthusiasm for discussion… Questions like: “Should we have a joint design/politics degree?” and “Is it the entrepreneurial urge for design to serve society or vice versa?” Also, “Is it better to talk to economists about these issues rather than politicians?” and “Should we incorporate the cost of recycling into a products’ life cycle?” Adam said that Europe is already doing this through the sorts of products they allow into the EEC by forecasting their end of useful life and expected date of entry into landfill.

In summary, Tony said that every designer needs to be a strategist and Vesna pointed out the fact that the room was full of designers who already know about these issues and want to drive change. We need to be having this level of discussion with other industries and government.

Then came the film…

Objectified is one of a trilogy of documentary films directed by Gary Hustwit about our complex relationship with manufactured objects and the people who design them. It looks at the creativity at work behind everything from toothbrushes to tech gadgets and the designers who re-examine, re-evaluate and re-invent our manufactured environment on a daily basis. The film documents the creative processes of some of the world’s most influential product designers, and looks at how the things they make impact our lives, what can we learn about who we are, and who we want to be, from the objects with which we surround ourselves…

Whilst I found the film interesting and was keen to hear the views of internationally renowned designers as Karim Rashid, the Bouroullec brothers Naoto Fukasawa and Marc Newson, I think I wanted a film as passionate about change as the previous panel discussion. I did however, enjoy and share the view with the founders of IDEO, that a product should get better with age. The company bottom-line has led us to produce products with a short life or that are superseded by the next new thing, instead of the time-honoured philosophy of passing down what has become precious and has lasted the test of time. Tim Brown from IDEO points out that most products end up in land fill and this needs to be considered when sitting down to design or redesign. It needs to be considered at the outset.

There are quite a few gems of ideas in the film, and I particularly liked the observations by Rob Walker from the New York Times Magazine. Worth the viewing, but recommended to be followed by a good hearty discussion…

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Beck permalink
    July 4, 2010 11:14 PM

    Hi KT

    — thanks for your summary of the WIDD event! I too enjoyed the Panel discussion and Objectified screening.

    I have to agree with you about the film — I too would have liked to extend into ongoing discussion post film and have been thinking about it a lot since. The two events were quite contextually different. The panel had such a meaty theme to contend with “Industrial Design: Humane Solutions for a Resilient World” … whereas the film mostly focused on what industrial designers do and (a little bit) what they ought to consider… nothing too heavy and a very ‘light’ peppering of sustainability issues. I appreciate that the film was mostly balanced (a little too much IDEO representation…) & somewhat neutral (didn’t really push an agenda) – and I think this worked well on the night & made for a lightish follow-up to the panel discussion. I personally would have liked more zing in the film (I like a hearty debate) and agree with you about Rob Walker — he was very insightful.

    Overall, I think had the night focused solely on debating the theme, we could have taken the discussion much further — personally I would have liked it if it delved into the complexities of ‘what is sustainability?’. Not just from a sourcing, manufacturing, consuming perspective/s — but social perspectives as well (consequential impacts on communities – labour, health, job skilling/deskilling etc). Furthermore, I would have liked to have heard the panels thoughts (if any) on the ‘duty of care’ of the designer and how this may impact future methods and practices …note to self for future design seminars.

    b e c k

    • July 5, 2010 8:47 AM

      Thanks for your comments Beck. Really looking forward to the next seminar. Let me know when that will be and it’s focus and I’ll post it on this blog.


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