2013 is well and truly upon us! As we approach the month of March, I’m sure many of us have settled into our respective plans for the year. I for one, have spent the last couple of months thinking about design and how it might be more responsive, more transformative and above all, how it might help us to find solutions to some of the words most pressing problems.
I’m encouraged by the efforts of many designers and thinkers from around the world – like the Belgian economist and entrepreneur Gunter Pauli – who advocates a move away from the green, to the blue economy. Pauli and others argue that the green economy is no longer working and that we cannot keep doing what we are doing. Why is doing less bad considered progress, he says. Why are companies who are producing less pollution receiving environmental awards? Most people would find it difficult to accept a criminal who offered to commit less crime!
In considering a blue economy on the other hand, Pauli urges us to rethink everything we are doing and aim for no less than zero emissions and zero waste. A blue economy ‘uses resources in cascading systems, where the waste of one product becomes the input to create a new cash flow’. Using notions such as bio-mimicry, blue economy advocates believe we can address problems and issues through the use of smart and appropriate technology which can offer multiple solutions to problems.
One interesting example Pauli uses is: why do we have hot water coming out of our taps at a temperature which is so hot that we need to cool it down for most domestic use. If the human body cannot tolerate water at a temperature beyond 43⁰, it just doesn’t make sense to keep pumping it out at 65⁰ to 70⁰. The water mixer, Pauli argues, is an example of bad design. Would it not be wiser to convert that wasted energy into something better and more useful? You can find more ingenious solutions here.
Most importantly, proponents of the blue economy seek innovation and the generation of wealth and jobs by addressing and eliminating any kind of collateral damage normally associated with productivity. The benefits are multiple because there is more than one good reason for doing something – not just to generate revenue and assets but to do public good and to eliminate forever the bad standards that we have come to accept today. It’s a mighty challenge – but who better to take this on than those virtuosos of challenges and problem solving – designers. To hear an interview with Pauli, listen to podcast at ABC.
With these thoughts in mind, I am happy to announce that, after a small break in 2012, Sydney Design is back. This year’s theme is “Design re:think – can design save the world?” The theme presents a challenge to us all. Can design transform, replenish and restore the well-being of our world to create a cleaner, more beautiful and more functional society? If design is ‘intelligence made visible’ how can designers re-think systems, products, environments and business models to preserve, enhance and nurture our planet and its people.
It’s been a joy to discuss these ideas with my colleagues and friends in the design community. Whilst there are many obstacles, the enthusiasm and thirst for change is palpable and spurred on by design exhibition models like the Smithsonian: Cooper-Hewitt national Design Museum’s ‘Design for the other 90%’ and ‘Design with the other 90%’ – design for the public good has attracted powerful interest around the world. Similarly, the Cooper Hewitt’s White Paper: ‘Design and Social Impact’ takes a cross-sectoral look at design and social impact for design education, research and practice.
I’m pleased to announce that the Sydney Design program will also include an exhibition from the Vitra Design Museum, Germany: ‘George Nelson: Architect, Writer, Designer, Teacher’. Not only was this American designer one of the most influential figures in twentieth century design, he was also a big believer in designing systems and ways of doing things. In 1961, at the height of the Cold War, he created an ironic commentary on warfare from the designer’s point of view in the television program: ‘How to Kill People: A Problem of Design’. More about this amazing designer at the George Nelson Foundation and more of his films can be viewed here.
As one of the few museums in the world which produces an international design festival and is deeply committed to ‘unpacking’ design for a range of audiences, exploring these issues is both timely and appropriate for the Powerhouse Museum. I look forward to input and feedback from the Sydney design community and wish you all the very best as we leap into 2013 with gusto and enthusiasm for all our design projects.