WDCD Live Amsterdam 2017 Report: Day 2 plenary sessions
Hovering between hope and despair
Do you want the good news or the bad news first? What about plenty of the former and not so much of the latter? Speakers on day two of What Design Can Do 2017 frequently returned to this dilemma at the heart of climate change discussions.
Despite the need to know the severity of the climate problem, speakers warned of the downside of too much doom and gloom, which only drives people to despair. Feel-good stories of breakthroughs and progress, on the other hand, inspire belief in the possibility of a brighter future.
DESIGN A SOFT LANDING
Conny Bakker, associate professor of industrial design, summed it up by first breaking the bad news: climate change is here to stay. The good news is that there are plenty of ways to ensure we enjoy a ‘soft landing’ in the unpredictable future awaiting us.
Bakker identified three approaches to achieve that through design. First, by going circular. Waste is design gone wrong, so we need to design it out of the system. Even Apple is revising the usual sequence of ‘take-make-consume-waste’ with a robot that can disassemble used iPhones so that components can be reused.
Second, by taking the long view, as Dieter Rams did more than half a century ago with his Vitsoe universal shelving system. Miele is another champion of longevity, even proudly claiming that people statistically change their marriage partner before they change their washing machine, assuming it’s a Miele of course.
Third, by embracing resilience. Efficiency is the opposite of resilience. Many present-day innovations find their echoes in the past. For instance, today’s zero-energy buildings find their counterparts in the millions of windmills built on farmsteads in late-19th-century America.
Bakker identified three areas where she hopes change can occur. Design schools need to instil the above-mentioned values in the minds of students, politicians and designers need to talk to each other, and companies and communities should work together.
TAKE A BROAD VIEW
Taking a broader view was also the thrust of the ensuing discussion in which Marcelo Ebrard, former mayor of Mexico City, called for linkages between policy areas. Improving infrastructure, he said, should go hand in hand with implementing measures to reduce pollution. Kamal Mouzawak from Lebanon went further by saying that change is not just for designers or politicians. It is everybody’s responsibility. Indeed, to him, everybody is a designer or sorts. Even the business world can join this community for change, added sustainable business expert Nancy Bocken. Her advice to businesses: think big, start small.
One man heeding her advice is copywriter Naresh Ramchandani, co-founder of Do The Right Thing, a non-profit public service. In communicating about what he called ‘the green thing’, he called for a certain lightness to make people uncurl and look outside.
DARE TO BE GREAT
Lawyer Polly Higgins, another advocate of change, represents just one client: the Earth. We have a legal duty of care for the planet, she said, and we are failing in that duty. We are guilty of state and corporate ecocide. But it isn’t easy to communicate a positive message from the state of emergency that exists. What she wants is something other than a typical cause and campaign, and she needs help from designers.
An example of the fundamental reshaping of the way we engage with our planet is her friend Steve. Once a high-flying figure in the financial world, he has retreated to the mountains where he lives barefoot so as to connect deeply with mother earth. Like him, we too should ‘dare to be great’.
Another man on a mission is restauranteur Rodrigo Oliveira from São Paulo, who earned a Michelin star without compromising on principles. Every meal must be delicious, healthy, affordable – and inclusive. His success illustrates that great things are possible, no matter if the odds are stacked against you. After all, when the land is dry, the roots go deeper.
CONFRONT OUR GREATEST CHALLENGES
The honour of closing out What Design Can Do 2017 fell to no less a master than Bruce Mau. He returned to the sentiment that had permeated the day: our pessimism about the state of the world is greatly outweighed by optimism about our ability to change things through design.
Designers have the capacity to reshape everything we do, he told us. Designers have a responsibility to inspire people to change how they live. Cynicism, he added, is a luxury we cannot afford. That’s why he and partner Bisi Williams launched their life-changing project with the bold name Massive Change.
One of his latest ventures is an exhibition entitled EDIT, which brings together the best and worst of mankind. Photographs by Paolo Pellegrin document the hatred, racism, misogyny and xenophobia of today. But alongside these, Mau presents the best of human accomplishments, design projects that confront our greatest challenges and bring beauty, imagination and delight into the world. No doubt the despair conveyed by Pellegrin’s images is more than compensated for by the hope expressed in his many examples of what design can do.
Top image: Bruce Mau on stage during his closing talk (photo Leo Veger)