What Design Can Do festival in Mexico City

What is design’s role in times of crisis? Can technology bring us back to nature? Is architecture political? And how can a designer be a good ancestor? Last week at WDCD Mexico GNP 2023, we explored all this and more through a diverse programme of talks, tunes, pitches, workshops and dialogues.

A sold-out crowd of almost a thousand creative activists, innovators and designers came together for the fourth edition of our festival in Mexico City to explore the changing role of design in social and climate justice. Bringing their insights to centre stage were some of the world’s leading creative voices, including curator Paola Antonelli, textile designer Marisol Centeno, visual communication expert Eddie Opara, architect Afaina de Jong and fashion designer Adebayo Oke-Lawal. The programme also featured a series of interactive breakout sessions which invited visitors to dive deeper into themes like gender equality, circular design and sustainable architecture. If you missed it, here are four key takeaways from the big day.

Paola Antonelli speaking at What Design Can Do Mexico City GNP 2023

Afaina de Jong speaking at What Design Can Do Mexico City GNP 2023

Hope and anger GO HAND-IN-HAND

Paola Antonelli opened the festival with a rousing reflection on the current state of design, highlighting its role during key moments of the last decade, like that of the Covid-19 pandemic and the climate crisis. Her talk also touched on something that resonated throughout the rest of the programme: the idea that to build a better world, we must learn how to use both optimism and pessimism—hope and anger—as engines of change.

“As designers we have a lot of ammunition. We have objects as our Trojan horses. We have collaboration as our recipe. We have empathy as an innate characteristic of our profession. And we also have anger.” — Paola Antonelli


A large portion of the programme was led by creative trailblazers from Mexico and the region, who spoke about the cultural legacies and heritages that meet in their designs. Many advocated for a reappreciation of local and ancestral ways of living and making.  Brazilian designer Andrea Bandoni brought examples of innovations from the Amazon, and called attention the idea of ancestrality as a means to look forward. Mexican illustrator Gabriela Badillo emphasised the critical importance of preserving Indigenous languages, and urged a deeper understanding of ancient ways of communicating, making and knowing, highlighting the need to recognise their relevance beyond museums.

“I want to call to attention the relationship between women, craft and care. And to the idea of ancestrality as a means to look forward.” — Andrea Bandoni

Adebayo Oke-Lawal speaking at What Design Can Do Mexico City GNP 2023

Tipastype speaking at What Design Can Do Mexico City GNP 2023


Many speakers also examined the intricate relationship between humans and nature, exploring ways to renegotiate our role within the micro and macro ecosystems that we live in. From Gabo Calvillo’s insights on interspecies collaboration to Aura Murillo‘s efforts to regenerate our oceans, there was a clear desire to explore what biomimicry and biodesign could do for climate action.

“Bees have done so much for us. What can we do for them?”
— Gabo Calvillo


Decolonising design was another urgent theme explored during the festival. Afaina de Jong, architect and founder of AFARAI, spoke about what this process could look like in practice: “I think it is more helpful to think about decolonisation as a process of expansion: it’s about adding to the library, adding to the canon, adding to diversity. And about exploring how we could design new systems that actually revalue these kinds of differences.” Afaina’s talk was one of several that pointed to the need for constant reexamination of who is represented and included in the creative industries, asking questions like: What does it mean to design from the margins? And what would our cities, homes and products look like if they were inclusive and intersectional?

“As architects, it’s very important to realise that we’ve been designing from a very specific and singular point of view. And we need to ask: what would an architecture that is based on different values look like?” — Afaina de Jong

Visitors at What Design Can Do Mexico City GNP 2023

Visitors at What Design Can Do Mexico City GNP 2023

All photos by Lola Films.

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