Last week, What Design Can Do returned to Mexico City for the long-awaited second edition of WDCDMX GNP 2021. Over two days, more than 1000 attendees were treated to several dozen online and offline talks, performances and workshops under the open sky at the Ángela Peralta theatre. For many of the speakers, it was the first time they had faced a live audience in nearly two years. This made for an electric atmosphere as creative heavyweights like Fernando Laposse, Giorgia Lupi, Oscar Hagerman, Lidewij Edelkoort, Michel Rojkind, Bárbara Sánchez-Kane and more took to the yellow stage to explore the role of design in building a better world. Here, we bring you a closer look at some of the most memorable moments from the festival, which took place on 28 & 29 October 2021.

When urgency meets hope

Each opening session at WDCDMX GNP 2021 was kicked off with an actual bang, thanks to musical performances by Mexican artist collective N.A.A.F.I. Their energy set the stage for a series of rousing talks which explored the role of optimism in creating change and celebrated real examples of design ingenuity at work. Powered by the Delegation of the European Union to Mexico, this part of the programme included presentations by this year’s winners of the global No Waste Challenge, and interviews with environmentalists like Enrique Lomnitz from Isla Urbana and EU officials working towards the European Green Deal. World-renowned creative Stefan Sagmeister also called in for a thought-provoking talk on what it takes to find—and design—a sense perspective at a time of unprecedented crisis. His main advice? Unplug from the relentless news cycle and invest in some long-term thinking. “Let’s look at what we’ve already done instead of focusing on the feeling of doom.”

A call for gender equality

With the audience warmed up, the programme moved on to explore more in-depth themes, many of which were especially relevant for Mexico’s local context. Day 1 saw an especially inspiring string of sessions led by an all-women panel featuring creative activists Bárbara Sánchez-Kane, Jimena Acosta, Zoe Mendelson and María Conejo. In their talks, they explored the intersection of feminism and design, demonstrating how fashion design, performance, curation and storytelling can be used to break binaries, expand access, or facilitate reform. As Sánchez-Kane reminds us, it’s high time that we “push back against these impositions that we don’t identify with.”

Learning from indigenous wisdom

Another recurring topic in the programme was climate justice, with many speakers stressing the need to centre indigenous voices as we build a more sustainable future. For designer Fernando Laposse, this means returning to traditional crafts and cultivating a culture of accountability. “The environmental crisis is also an inequality crisis. And we can’t solve this inequality crisis without facing the ghosts of our colonial past,” he said. Echoing this sentiment was artist and linguist Yásnaya Elena Aguilar, who reminded us: “The people who have contributed the least to this emergency we are in are those who are suffering the most, and those who contribute the most are those who suffer the least.” 

Building on these ideas, visionary architect Oscar Hagerman took to the stage on Day 2 to share the story behind some of his most iconic furniture designs, as well as his more recent work building homes, schools and social centres in collaboration with indigenous communities in Mexico. For him, the practice of design is intertwined with that of ecology, and every object should be in harmony with its local environment and people. “Through design we can make beautiful things. Our designs, in addition to being beautiful, should help people lead better lives.”

‘What is the earth asking of us now?’

As the sun dipped below the horizon on the final day of the festival, award-winning filmmaker Josh Fox closed the show with a performance to remember. With a banjo on his hip, the environmentalist addressed the crowd directly in an impassioned speech calling for an end to fossil fuels; an end to infinite growth; and a total recalibration of our relationship with nature. He reminded us that we are not separate from the planet. We are not separate from the earth. And everything is on the line. “Are we prepared to stand on the frontlines? Will we seize the shift? Will we learn from the knowledge that Covid-19 gave us?” he asked a rapt audience. “What are we prepared to do? What is the earth asking of us now?”

Breaking out and taking action

In between their talks on the main stage, speakers were also on hand to host interactive breakout sessions aimed at spurring participants into action across the festival’s six themes. In smaller, more intimate groups, the crowd came alive as they shared ideas, asked questions, and worked with their hands. In the creative workshop Denim’s Life, for example, waste textile artist Femke van Gemert collaborated with participants to come up with experimental new ways to reuse and transform denim offcuts. In Visualising Gender Equality, crowd-favourite Giorgia Lupi gave a masterclass on how statistics around complex issues like women’s rights can be transformed into engaging and empathetic visuals. Another breakout session which emphasised creativity as a tool for healing was Dealing With Climate Anxiety, which saw Josh Fox, Zoe Mendelson and María Conejo join forces to share experiences around overcoming and communicating feelings of climate anxiety.

Missed any part of the festival?

This year, our doors were open to a digital audience on Youtube as well as in-person attendees. This means that you can relive your favourite talks at any time by heading to our recorded livestream in Spanish and English, with translated versions coming soon. You can also sneak a peek at the WDCDMX GNP 2021 aftermovies here

Next up, we’ll be coming home to Amsterdam for a new edition of WDCD Live in Spring 2022! For more information on our past and upcoming events, consider subscribing to our newsletter.