WDCD Live São Paulo 2017 report: Day 1 / part 1

‘Designers should start co-creating with technology’


Published in Senses & WDCD by

We already have entered the era where machines are taking over design and we should start co-creating with artificial intelligence. Juliana Proserpio, who surprised us with this remark right at the start of WDCD Live São Paulo 2017, believes technology can help us design desirable futures. As the first day evolved, technology emerged as thread throughout most of the talks.

‘It is really important that we do not focus on design as a thing to be cheered by designers alone,’ WDCD’s creative director and co-founder Richard van der Laken said at the start of the third edition of What Design Can Do Live in São Paulo. ‘That’s why I’m happy that we were able to bring in people from other worlds and fields of expertise to this conference. It is very important that we bring our worlds together and that we learn from each other.’

Richard van der Laken opening WDCD Live São Paulo 2017 / photo José de Holanda

Exchange is also the very reason for bringing WDCD to Brazil, he said. ‘Brazil and São Paulo in particular has a huge and strong creative community and a design culture that uses an holistic approach on things. Three years ago, we decided to bring What Design Can Do to São Paulo, because we think that we have a lot to offer, but also because we are convinced that we can learn a lot from the Brazilian design culture.’

Artificial intelligence

But would he have thought that this day was about the exchanges with technology and artificial intelligence too? Juliana Proserpio, founder of design thinking agency Echos, kicked off the day with a very convincing presentation on designing the future just as we want it to be. Instead of improving what already is there, Proserpio proposes to design with intention and a clear idea of what we want the future to be like. ‘We humans, we are all the designers of our lives, our relations, our democracies and we must realize that we can change things,’ she said.

Juliana Proserpio / photo José de Holanda

And we can use technology to help us with this, Proserpio argued. Referring to the movie Sunspring that was entirely written by artificial intelligence, she pointed out that we already have entered the era were artificial intelligence is taking over design. We shouldn’t be afraid of that, though, but embrace it and start co-creating with the technology to sketch the scenarios for a desirable future.

Echos used the approach for a method that helps people to envision a world in which all genders are equal, as part of an ongoing research in collaboration with WDCD on gender inequalities and violence against women. This method of creating some sort of sci-fi story of what the world should look like in 2030 can also be applied to the climate change issue, Proserpio continued, concluding with this simple encouragement: ‘You can be the designers of your lives. Together we can design the future of Brazil.’

Looking at light

In the afternoon, Brazilian architect Guto Requena also argued in favour of technology. Requena showed us that technology and humanity are not necessarily opposites and that technology even can bring us love. Requena started out by telling that he has grown up in a world of violence, in which some day his family’s dog was killed as a warning, he once was kidnapped for several days and finally his father was brutally murdered for unknown reasons.

WDCD Live São Paulo 2017  / photo José de Holanda

‘One day, I decided that I was not going to look at darkness for the rest of my life, but instead at light,’ Requena said. His aim as an architect is to make this world, and certainly his home country, a better place and he showed how technology can be a great help for that. ‘The future of design is in systems and interfaces,’ he told, while showing the façade for the Hotel WZ Jardins he redesigned in 2015. The light sculpture reflects the levels of noise and air pollution surrounding the hotel as an expression of the state of the environment.

In the project Can you tell me a secret? (2016) Requena designed interactive furniture for a public square in a relatively rich area of São Paulo were lots of immigrants live. The previously unoccupied square, filled with people the moment the furniture was installed. In the installation people can record a secret that others can hear back while sitting on the benches. When Requena witnessed an older Nigerian man and a Korean woman start talking to each other while sitting next to each other, he knew the project was a success.

But Requena really captured the audience with his Love Project in which biological data collected through brain and heart sensors from people who were asked to tell a love story were used to create beautifully shaped objects. The project offers people the opportunity to give each other a love story in the tangible form of for instance jewellery. ‘It’s a product based on emotions,’ Requena said, who clearly is not at the end of this new approach to design. ‘Imagine that we start creating architecture based on feelings,’ he concluded. Guto Requena is clearly someone we need to watch closely.

Guto Requena / photo José de Holanda

Generative design

Who knows, maybe one day we can feed feelings to the software Autodesk created to help designers create hardware. Joe Speicher, CEO of the Autodesk Foundation, explained that the new software is meant for what he calls ‘generative design’. On the basis of dimensions and other criteria the programme can make millions of iterations of a design. ‘You can use the software to optimize for cost, weight, sustainability and many more criteria,’ Speicher told. ‘Completely new geometries result from this.’

Joe Speicher / photo José de Holanda

The challenge of adapting to climate change can benefit from this programme too, Speicher continued. He named the Biolite cook stove as a product that was made more energy efficient using the software and mentioned how the tool can be used for resilient architecture. We shouldn’t be afraid of technology, but use it as a tool to design solutions for a better world, Speicher concluded.

Save the humans

Closing the day, Pete Hellicar, who started his talk with a beautiful song, positioned himself at the crossroads of art, design and technology. He shared a personal story about a good friend, an environmental activist, who recently had died in a plane crash in the Amazon. In her last conversation with him she talked with him about saving the planet. It made Hellicar think. ‘This planet is 4,5 billion years old, humans are 300,000 years old at the best, the industrial revolution started 200 years ago,’ he said. ‘My guess is that Earth doesn’t care at all. It’s not about saving the planet, but about saving the humans.’

Pete Hellicar / photo José de Holanda

One of the interactive installations Hellicar showed in this context was for Greenpeace’s presence on the Glastonbury Festival in 2013. For the Save the Arctic campaign an Artic dome was created that offered people the opportunity to disappear through a crack in the ice and take a magical 15-minute trip to the North Pole. The kaleidoscopic imagery helped communicate the importance of the arctic – that untouched, pristine wilderness at the top of the world, at risk because of climate change and exploitation. The installation was one of the top attractions, resulting in 4,000 additional signatures for the campaign.

Top image: Guto Requena / photo by José de Holanda


During drinks, Hellicar asked the help of Brazilians to discover the use of a local toy his son had gotten from their late friend, the environmental activist

During drinks, Hellicar asked the help of Brazilians to discover the use of a local toy his son had gotten from their late friend, the environmental activist

Jurgen Bey (right) joined the inquiry...

Jurgen Bey (right) joined the inquiry...

...while Hellicar gave it another try

...while Hellicar gave it another try

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