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I am a designer. So are you

I am a designer. So are you

All of us can use design to make the difference

One of my most vivid childhood memories is of my father at the kitchen table at our home in Manhattan Beach. He is teaching me how to draw eyes — the whole eyeball. I am five years old. My mind is blown.

I grew up debating form over function at the dinner table and I loved every moment of it. I eventually followed in my father’s footsteps and went on to study art and design formally. Design as I knew it was a tool with which we could solve the functional problems of our day-to-day lives, communicate more effectively, make the chair more ergo friendly, and help those that can’t see.  

In today’s political climate we demand more from design, and if the new Design Museum and Rapid Response Collecting Gallery at the V&A are anything to go by, design practitioners around the world are asking the question, ‘what is it all for if we’re not designing a better future?’

Which in the case of this year’s What Design Can Do (WDCD) conference, is to make sure we have a future. It really is that serious. We’ve spent the last 15 years debating the existence of climate change; the non-believers remain but the rest of us have moved on to doing something about it. But are we?

Design for impact

I don’t know about you but I feel impotent.  I’ve seen the stats and I know that really, recycling efforts are driven by economics not environmental conscience. This makes me sad and I’m not alone.

WDCD is a reminder that it’s important to keep thinking about the bigger picture, but it’s true power as an event comes in giving the design community something to do. 

WDCD is a project that was created in 2011 aiming to showcase design as a provocateur of change. It seeks to inspire designers around the globe to use their talents to try and address the most prevalent social questions of our time. It wants designers to show us how design can do “more than make things pretty”, and how design changes the world around us, and our lives.

Importantly, the event organisers have joined forces with the IKEA Foundation and the Autodesk Foundation to encourage guests and anyone else interested to apply these learnings to a tangible project with the launch of The Climate Action Challenge. The initiative calls on people from all countries and disciplines to take part — highlighting that design truly transcends boundaries — by submitting their ideas to tackle a particular aspect of climate change, from heavy rainfall to famine.

Given that the impact of climate change is so far reaching, the website invites interested parties to select their location, the type of company they work for and the area most relevant to them and generates a brief in response. The result? Relevant, actionable briefs for top design thinkers, thought leaders and visionaries across the globe to respond to with what will no doubt be inspiring ideas that combat this pressing issue. 

Innovation happens in whispers

The event itself spanned two days with inspirational keynotes from the likes of British design critic Alice Rawsthorn, Brazilian chef Rodrigo Oliveira, and numerous breakouts including our very own Bruce Mau, Chief Design Officer at Freeman, who asked his Manifesto Workshop participants how design can change the world.  These responses fed the event manifesto that Mau delivered in his closing presentation.

It was Oliveira’s story of food and community that has stayed with me these past months, and his perfect sound bite — ‘tradition is innovation that worked’. His story is one of an individual, an ordinary person like you or I who was capable of making a great difference, something we often imagine is impossible without the backing or money of a global company. Oliveira’s story is a reminder that one person can do something extraordinary and impactful.

Oliveira grew up in his father’s restaurant in a working class quarter in the outskirts of Sao Paulo. He went to university to study engineering but dropped out to train as a chef, much to his father’s disappointment. He returned home to the family restaurant, Mocoto determined to support and energise his community by providing delicious, affordable, sustainably sourced Michelin star food. The success of the project can be measured in the queues that line the streets as locals, foreigners and celebrities patiently and happily wait for a table. The true success however, is in a galvanised, energised and empowered community and the opportunities that are now afforded to those who work at Mocoto. Many staff have been sponsored and supported through university.

It’s common sense that redesigning our future involves being more sensitive to our environment. Mocoto is a shining example of how a simple idea can be an honest and pure expression of the values and purpose that in turn, transform the neighbourhood and in its own way change the world.

It hadn’t occurred to me when I started writing, but perhaps design begins and ends at the kitchen table. It’s where you’ll find your most important people, and it’s why we want to protect our planet.


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Emily shaw

Emily Shaw

Strategy Director

With a varied background in theatre, film and advertising, Emily has a unique perspective on the art of storytelling, and has spent her entire career creating relevant and engaging experiences for audiences in some way, shape or form. A passionate problem solver, she approaches a project from every...

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