Design overtables: The worlds we make

Several decades have passed after the bold declaration from Victor Papanek of Design as a political endeavour with potential deadly consequences. It was his one of the first voices to point out our responsibility as designers in mediating the everyday life of people by giving form to tools, technologies, interfaces… Nevertheless in a historical moment that claims for new imaginations and imaginaries a big portion of design is still sustaining the structures and practices that led us here. While Papaneks’ main concerns were environmental and development based, during these past years the critique of design has included an intersectional logic including feminist, decolonising, diversity (race, abilities…) or post-capitalistic perspectives that have contributed to actualize and broaden Papanek’s vision. 

Today, Barcelona’s design ecosystem holds varied interesting visions and practices in realizing the political qualities of design. That’s why, in the context of Papanek’s exhibition in Barcelona Design Museum we were asked to organise an event to further share between collectives and individuals concrete practices, tools and approaches. This event coincides with a collective reflection we’ve been pursuing around the worlds we make. Throughout this time intentionality has been a key idea to reflect upon. As designers we contribute giving form to worlds either creating new frames or normalising/confronting already existing ones. We do so not only by the “things” we help be born but also by holding a particular worldview, sharing a particular vision for the future or orchestrating our individual and collective agencies. 

All these questions were explored in an article and synthesized in the map bellow.

Last week we had the chance to organise a new event which, by now, we are calling Design Overtables in which a long meal is served and a discussion is nurtured around different topics surrounding design today. In the first edition we were lucky enough to count with the support of Barcelona Design Museum and the participation of interesting and relevant individuals and collectives from the city.

The main frame for this conversation was around the practical ways that we integrate critical-political standpoints in our everyday life as designers. All along the meal several focal points were set around which conversations started to orbitate. Hereafter there are some possible threads to keep pulling: 

  • From production to reproduction and care logic. In HOLON we have reflected about what it means to us. Personal and professional is intertwined. Personal values, visions and ethics are developed interpersonally, so is a collective endeavour. Organizations and collectives are social technologies that serve to coordinate action towards specific visions.  Is not only what we create and how we do it (our practice) but also what’s our vision of the world and worldview, how do we understand our agency and roles in realizing them, how do we internally organize and operate and how does everything suit into our lifestyle.
  • Exploring the infinite shades of grey. Many strategies and positions are available in the context of systemic change. Escaping dogmatism is sometimes difficult. Real life and survival many times prevails. Between full collaborationism with power structures and unquestionable integrity there’s a full range of option worth exploring.
  • Who sustains and funds sustainable innovation/design? Reviewing Papanek’s work it can be understood that much of his work was funded both by education and development institutions (such as UN). Same things applies to much of the work from politically situated agents in Barcelona. Still public administrations is funding and conditioning much of the work done. Which dynamic does this bring? How other context could be possible? 
  • Everyday life as a battlefield for system change. Design can be a leverage for both defining better suited lifestyles and defining macro-level interventions (such as in the case of policy design). Following the economic theories developed by Carlota Perez’s in her work around economic cycles and breakthroughs, design could again be a leverage to a deployment period followed by new values, norms and lifestyles.

Some of the conversations that happened during the event will be materialized in a future article and open public presentation that will be held with the closing event from the exhibition.

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