2017/10/08 13:10 Alice Rawsthorn, “Good or Bad Design”, EditDX

Keynote @alicerawsthorn @EditDX

Introduction by Nina Boccia @nboccia Director of Programs, Design Exchange

[Alice Rawsthorn]

Good or bad design in light of sustainable development goals

Machine Art, exhibition at MoMA 1934

  • Curated by Philip Johnson, a student, who had gone to Baushaus
  • Championed modern movement
  • A year after joining, added design
  • Machine Art was first project in 1934
  • Speed, economy, convenience
  • Amelia Earhardt
  • Visitors weren’t accustomed, reviews were dreadful, letters of complaint flooded in
  • Now seen as an enduring influence on popular perceptions:  what something does, and what it looks like

“The Beauty of Life”, William Morris — lecture similar to Johnson

  • Nothing in your house that isn’t useful
  • William Morris hated this

Then, art context, like Pompidou Centre, more how it looks, not so much function

Citroen car, 1955 in exhibition

  • Fall from the sky


Fostered idea of industrial design

  • Can be damaging
  • Symbols of design beauty

Alice Rawsthorn at EditDX

Valentina typewriter 1969 for Olivetti, but it didn’t work, stopped production to so many complaints

  • Yet it’s still in design museums worldwide

Businesses and NGOs only thinking of design in this way is limiting

Accra, outside Ghana

  • Where waste goes to die
  • Can design be used to clean this up, instead of filling it with junk like this?

Use in healthcare?

Not just unfit for purpose, but irrelevant

  • What should replace it?

Defining design

Design is an agent of change that can help us to make sense of what is happening, and to turn it to our advantage.

  • Changes could be economical, social …
  • Doesn’t have to be scary
  • Need this, right now, for speed and scale

Women’s march on London:  Too much to fit on one sign

  • Terrorism
  • Accelerating science and technology
  • Refugee crisis

Design isn’t a panacea, but can help … if society allows it to do so

  • Only if process includes design as good and bad

Non-negotiable quality since 1880, usefulness

  • Why consider desirable if not useful?

New Bus for London 2012 (new Routemaster), replacing 1954 model Routemaster

  • Named the Boris bus
  • New Routemaster looks good, when you see a lot more together
  • Quality of engineering is so poor, it breaks down
  • Diesel breakdowns
  • Overheating for passengers
  • It’s too unreliable to be useful
  • Tasteful rubbish is still rubbish:  Reyner Banham

Digital product:  Google Glass

  • Seems so exciting at Google, thought the rest of us would wear them
  • The look dodgy, don’t do much more than phones
  • Triggered court cases
  • Mocked
  • Sales poor, stopped making them in 2013
  • Wasn’t useful, although it serve function

Useful needs to be combined with third, integrity

  • If concerned with manufacturing, distribution, etc. … it can’t be consider as good design

Roland Barthes:  any pleasure from car is blighted by it being a gas-guzzling economic bomb

Apple iPhone:  following physics in the hand

  • But environmental impact, and workers?
  • Apple has made some progress, but still worry
  • Can’t possibly look at them anymore
  • Or Dublin taxes

Fairphone:  sustainable

  • Know they’re trying to develop as responsibility and sustainable as possible
  • Without integrity, can’t be designed responsibility

Razor wire on fence at Calais, to prevent refugees from leaving France

  • Homeless spikes to stop people from sleeping there
  • Purpose is odious
  • No integrity

Another response:  Talking Hands, Treviso in Italy

  • Many refugees on their way through
  • Most living illegally, nothing to do
  • Can’t be employed legally
  • Local designers set up and run talking hands workshops
  • Hand skills, focusing on skills the refugees already have
  • Carpentry, embroidering
  • An example of good design, empathic, useful

Useful and integrity, changes beauty

Material quality

  • Shapes come in and out of fashion

Postmodernism 1980s

  • Neo-rationalism in 1990s
  • Now, Chinese design:  objects 3-D printed, reminiscent of what we see on our screen
  • 3D printing, ever more innate intricacy

Cookery, bone china with chisel

  • Chisel was thought too coarse for porcelain
  • Singularity
  • Looks different from different heights and views
  • Creates an optical illusion that each piece is unique

Singularity rising, because of digitalization making things uniform

Politics of personal identity, radical redefinition of identity and gender

  • Being biologically black
  • Feminism, transgenderism
  • Increasing fluidity gender
  • Facebook tried to add 58 types of options, but then people complained that they couldn’t express themselves, Facebook responded with a freeform field
  • Fashion graphics can reflect colours, political concerns
  • Can use digital manufacturing systems, become more affordable and accessible

Are we going to exercise choice?

  • Not everyone wants to cook their own food
  • But do-it-yourself is becoming popular
  • Pleasure of making
  • Exposure to digital technologies, making us more sensitive to touch


  • Light fixture manufacture, Simon 100, no physical cues
  • We’re so accustomed to using phones by touch, we know how to use it
  • Too sharp, too wet, too slippery is uncomfortable

Hardware of tablet:

  • Pull to refresh, scrolling down a screen
  • NY Times:  few scientific articles on touch
  • Haptic software

Greater understanding of materials

  • Form becoming function is less important, with material become more important

Some important design projects that are good

Georg stool by Chris L. Halstrøm, a simple wooden stool manufactured in Denmark

  • Won awards, on old fashion merits
  • Political subtext, gender fluidity
  • Visualizing how it will be used, despite gender
  • Uses texture, as sense of touch is less likely to be stereotyped
  • String attaches to stool, individual can adjust to be comfortable
  • Everyone is free to interpret as they wish

Wecyclers, Lagos Nigeria

  • African designers at the vanguard, compelling projects, with humanitarian goals
  • Adebiyi Fatai Mabadeje
  • Recyclable waste building up in slums
  • Streets in slums too narrow for city trucks
  • Develop a service so that citizens can text cyclist, then trade for points, e.g. useful for food
  • 7,000 houses in Lagos use this, created 80 jobs
  • Contributes to sustainable production

Sehat Kahani:  improvisational design, to improve healthcare to women in Pakistan

  • Pakastan has shortage of women doctors, even though there are more in university
  • After graduation, women are pressured to marry
  • Network of tele-clinics, so that women doctors can practice at home
  • Tele-clinics staffed by nurses, in Karashi
  • Problems:  problem shortages, believing the women are real doctors
  • Addressed
  • Contributes to good heath and well-being

Forensic architecture:  Israeli architect, Eyal Weizman in London

  • Uses data to reconstruct scenes of criminality
  • Cameroon, evidence
  • Fostering peace and justice

All inspiring projects of good design in a contemporary sense

  • Challenges stereotype of design
  • Improve quality of life, rather than rubbish


Scale?  Grassroot projects.  Big powers?  Barriers?

  • Think scale is becoming more flexible
  • Empowering designers to work independently on complex problems
  • More funding, e.g. Ackerman, Gates Foundation
  • Downstairs:  Bruce Mau exhibit
  • The Ocean Cleanup project from Dutch designers, controversial, but has also generated a lot of support, clearing up plastic trash in oceans
  • $100,000 to launch project, ended up raise $2 million, now $31.5 million
  • Has prototyped in North Seas, next year will go into Pacific
  • If it flops, it will make it harder for other attitudinal designers, but if it works, it will make it easier
  • Projects have to prove merit

How can raise design philosophy?  Wanted to become a software designer, thought could change the world, build with information. Frustrated that there isn’t a language, but it isn’t practical.  Multidimensional.

  • Good news, there needs to be more debate on this issue
  • This festival shows this
  • May not come from specialist designers
  • Families will think of design differently, from coming here
  • Awful if people thought there’s not point in trying
  • The war continues, a lot of battles have been won

Example of female doctors in Amsterdam, trust?

  • Don’t know specifically
  • Have 20 tele-clinics, planning to have 150 by 2020
  • Have a lot of media support
  • Design community saw as improvisational
  • Medical professionals dealing with design in a practical way
  • Process will have been speeded up
  • Could serve dlderly women, who have a lot of medical problems

Comment, some families will go home and have pizza, others will have hand china.  Culture, we’re far away from that.  Affluent get to choose.

  • True.
  • General public awareness of sustainability and recycling has increased
  • While not at level we would like, it’s significant
  • Middle England, conservative, are skeptical
  • Local city councils providing an effective recycling service, there’s been a radical shift from landfill towards productive
  • Even 10 cent fee for plastic bags in Britain, skin flints don’t want to spend, so drastic shift
  • Some people can trade for food, cell phone minutes
  • Design has a lot to do

#design, #editdx