Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Changing the Change in Turin Italy

Geoff (boyfriend) and Ben (fellow Northumbria PhD peer) called me a “tough crowd” when I gave them my feedback on the Changing the Change conference which was recently held in Turin, Italy between 10-12 July 2008.

But having seen some of the blogging on the conference, such as here on Design Altruism Project, I don’t feel like such a tough crowd. My biggest gripe of the conference was the fact that is was a design conference with an abundance of poorly designed and illegible presentation slides. This was an issue raised at the DMI conference I attended earlier this year and I think we, as audiences and designers, should demand and do better.

Having said that, the keynotes and invited speakers are to be applauded for their passion, charisma and quality of presentation. Ezio Manzini hardly put a foot wrong with his opening presentation and he nailed it when he said the conference really was “field research” for all.

This is the thing that I have realised having attended a number of conferences now. Sometimes they are good, and sometimes they are bad, but no matter what, each time it is field research for benchmarking your own research and gathering new and fresh ideas, which may not come directly from the conference content, but hearing others just makes you think. And think about your own work.

I also enjoyed Nigel Cross’s presentation on the opening day. He did a good job to lift academic design research out of the drudgery saying that academic design research was beyond practice and was about clarifying what we do, and it should also inform design skills for constructive change. He further noted that academic design research should be developing knowledge that is easily articulated, communicated and replicable. All very important in our journey to bridging that divide between research and practice.

The invited speakers were also very interesting. I thought Geetha Narayanan’s presentation on Design in India really held the audience’s attention. She presented both philosophies of creative thinkers in India and gave some real world examples of sophisticated systems designs in India such in the case of milk production company, Amul, a network of people co-operating for milk production, marketing and distribution. It was clearly a sustainable system right down to the involvement of women in rural areas who were given financial independence for bringing the fresh milk to the factory. Close to the end of her presentation, Narayanan said, “design is not an abstract concept” in India, and I felt that both summed up her presentation really well and what design and sustainability should be all about.

Some of the notable presentors and presentations I attended are summarised below (with links to their papers):

Francois Jegou et al

Discussed the results of the Creative Communities for Sustainable Lifestyles project, which gathered stories of creative ideas by communities for sustainable living. For me the most interesting part of Jegou's presentation was about how these ideas could be scaled ie. Implemented into other cultural and social contexts. This was done by 'simulation cards' or enabling cards which identified enabling conditions for ideas to flourish in other communities.

Alex Quinto

Quinto’s company, Work Worth Doing, is making a living out of combining design and sustainability and this is not without challenges such as how you measure success of design for sustainability and how you get the money to do it in the first place. The latter is something that rested heavily in my mind throughout the conference. It was great that we could talk about future 'could be' scenarios, but practically how would they work without adequate resources such as time, people and funding to do it? Alex’s presentation also discussed some of work such as Now House, a demonstrator home for domestic environmental sustainability- funded by a mortgage company.

John Wood

Wood’s fellow colleague presented the 10 principles of Metadesign, Metadesign is what Wood calls a ‘more comprehensive, self-creating system of design’ in his paper. Something that could sit above all disciplines of design. I thought it was interesting that these principles could be used as indicators and measures of design. Especially seeing as all the Dott 07 projects I am looking at are so vastly different and I have never been sure about benchmarking them. A further look into Wood’s paper and other work (which I am vaguely familiar with having met John before and seen him present a few times) would probably help a lot.

Stuart Walker and Scott Badke

Their experience of working together between Canada and the UK illustrated to them that there was a difference between having an experience and really being in a place. They showed images from Banff (in Canada) and Keswick (in the UK), two very special places and even more special seeing as I have been to both and been impressed by their natural beauty in the way Walker and Badke were. Walker and Badke described having an experience as buying into the same brands that proliferate both locations (eg. North Face, Columbia etc.) which they see as impeding meaningful connections with the distinctiveness of places. I found their personal experiences and reflections quite fascinating and also very much reminiscent of Nicolas Bourriaud’s work on Relational Aesthetics and Guy Debord's work (book), Society of the Spectacle, both which I probably need to pick up again very soon.

Robert Young

So Bob is both Ben and my principle supervisor, but Bob’s presentation really hit chords with the audience. Bob proposed a framework for the changing nature of design practice moving from traditional design to emergent design. He discussed levels that designers design on with the D1, 2 and 3 model, which describes designers designing in the context, to designing of the context. I think the audience really appreciated someone framing for them the complexities of designing and design practice. I saw no other person do anything like this in the entire conference, and conversations were sparked in the Q&A session and also in the closing Discussion Sessions that sought to pin down the emergent themes of the conference.

I came away from the conference with many, many ideas for my own research. Much of this was fuelled by conversation with Bob and Ben, especially over enormous Italian dinners. I will somehow report on these either here, or in the monthly comms (newsletter) I send out.

On the second night of the conference, a conference dinner was held at the opulent Valentino Castle.

It could not have been a more perfect, summery night for an alfresco dinner in the courtyard of the Castle, with a live jazz band, arrow-shaped tables (part of the conference branding), and an all-round casual but classy affair. Definitely a mememorable moment for the Changing the Change conference.

For more reporting on the Changing the Change conference see:

Core 77
Design 21: Social Design Network

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