I am just back from three days of a very good conference on design and sustainability in Torino (and a much needed Sunday break), even though I have some mixed feelings about certain sides of it. If time allows, I will try to get into the details in separate posts, but as for now I want to scribble down what comes to my mind first.
This is a quick list of likes (see dislikes in the following):
- Amazing talks from the invited speakers, especially those coming from Africa, India, China and Japan; Bill Moggridge of IDEO did a brilliant job too (his takes on the role of designers as strategists were bold and funny).
- The idea of including virtually all of the conference participants, be they authors, speakers or simple attendants (like me), in an open round of sessions on “emerging issues” (see one of the preparatory boards in the pic above, on the left) — one of those was the new role of designers in this changing landscape (including very practical aspects, such as “how to make money – or, say, decent living – out of it”; see agan the pic above, on the right).
- The “call to action” (as it is called in Mark Vanderbeeken post on Core77) often raised in official presentations and informal exchanges.
- Some concrete, real-world project cases about design and sustainability external to the academic world
- The open, online publication of all the papers (click “Themes” and then go on; the “login” link I guess will be activated for downloading the entire proceedings in digital format for those that attended the conference).
- The beatiful, efficient location offered by the Politecnico di Torino at the Istituto di Biotecnologie.
And a couple or so of dislikes (the first is pretty big, the last is very minor):
- The lack of contrasting views in the overall conference debate, despite the themes under discussion can be regarded as highly controversial (I actually share pretty much of the leading visions there, but it looks like that many others in the world are not exactly of the same opinion… so e.g. why not to invite a very traditional product designer to give a talk? or a scientist with different views on climate change? etc.
- A large majority of the attendants were from the academic environment — all right, a special kinds of academics perhaps, with a commendable concern for some of the most urgent issues out there and not only for their papers and titles; but the risk of turning the design research debate into yet another “academic industry” was voiced even by Nigel Cross in the conference opening (Nigel Cross represented officially the Design Research Society at the event).
- The only remark I can made on the otherwise excellent organization: yes, it was possible to connect and recharge your notebook at the library, but the conference rooms had locked power plugs and no wi-fi; very possibly it has been planned like this for various reasons (e.g. is a setting like that not very sustainable?) but still…
Then, quite often I had the impression that speakers were not so eager to make explicit, articulated references to the epistemogical, ethical, political, philosophical assumptions underpinning this or this other position, analysis or proposal (on the contrary, e.g. Roberto Bartholo has recalled Richard Rorty, just to name one case). Of course, I guess that they are all in the papers; anyway, I would have liked having presenters more engaged and systematic on the principles and fundamentals level.