Weeknotes Week 051

Ambiguous Middle Phase continues but now with some glimmering of what lays ahead, beyond this chaotic period for HDL.

The week was bookended by a laundry list of activities related to the three Studios we're planning for summer: visiting a possible space right next to Delicato; interviewing students to join the team in supporting research roles; confirming studio members; interviewing two top talents experts on ageing; hunting down a map of internal migrations; and checking in with Gaia, who are preparing some futures projections. That's the sort of stuff that is continually churning, but I'm making note of it here so that we can look back in a couple months and remind ourselves of the rich crucible of everyday chores that created a background for deeper considerations about HDL.

On Tuesday Marco, Minna, and I took a day trip to Copenhagen to meet the fine people at MindLab and INDEX. Established as a design facility by three ministries (Employment, Taxation, Economic & Business Affairs), MindLab is one of the very few examples that we know of where design capability is explicitly integrated into government activities. They're been working to help government bodies improve the services they offer to the citizens of Denmark with a mix of design, social science, and public policy expertise.

After a very good and very hurried lunch we met with Kigge and Liza at INDEX:, the world's largest design award. It's set up as something along the lines of a Pritzker or Nobel for socially-beneficial "design to improve life." Naturally this high ambition for the contribution of design is something that we very much share. As is the recognition that to foster the ability of designers around the world to make a larger impact means very literally supporting them, enabling them to work without immediate clients. Or even markets. In particular it was nice to hear a bit about where their thinking is headed in the future. We're sworn to secrecy though, so stay tuned!

It's great to find allies – more and more of them every day. Not so long ago, if you said that you're interested in design with a social motivation and a practical imperative, you would have found very few people to share those aspirations with. Both of these discussions in Copenhagen underscored the fact that not only is this broader definition of design becoming a simple fact of the word's definition, but that there are more and more groups developing keen insights into implementation. What are the barriers to delivering improvements? How do we rethink the structure of design practice to open new opportunities? Who can designers involve in their work to benefit from expanded expertise on making things happen?

This is exciting to us because the design community is finally beginning to answer 50 year old questions. We're making those visionary "what ifs" from the 1960s into "why nots" – and "why not" is a much more operable question.

Victor Papanek in front of a prototype learning environment for children at HDL 1968. Photo by Kristian Runeberg.
Victor Papanek in front of a prototype learning environment for children at HDL 1968. Photo by Kristian Runeberg.

With my laptop battery dying, I'll close with a quotation from HDL 1968 by Victor Papanek, the father of green design. It's unusual to see him praise the consumer products industry, but here his message is more about bootstrapping than cars. Replace "industrial designer" with "strategic designer" and this quote pretty much sums up the transition we're experiencing right now, as design is increasingly integrated as a core competency in governmental-scale problem solving.

If we go back to the history of the design profession we find that it started in the late twenties... around 1927, 1928, 1929 is when industrial design began in the United States.

It started by someone saying "I am an industrial designer." And then going around to radio companies, to electric companies, to truck people and so forth saying "I am an industrial designer, and I can do this and this and this and this."

And the companies were sometimes impressed and hired this man, be he Raymond Loewy or anybody else, and the same people are still working for the same companies.

Suomenlinna, Helsinki. July 17, 1968.

We agree with Victor: it takes a daring few to open new areas of opportunity!