Berlin Design Week: new visions of Design


Last week, Monnou visited the Berlin Design Week. We had the opportunity to visit studios and projects like Pong, focused on industrial design with a circular economy look. And others like Superrr Lab, a non-profit organization focused on designing a better future for the digital environment: feminist, inclusive and sustainable. We were also in some talks and events. At the iF Design event, organized by the World Design Organization (WDO), we attended a debate on the role of designers in the times of Artificial Intelligence. And at the iF awards gala, we were able to meet many of the award-winning projects, learn about new design categories, and see how sustainability is increasingly becoming a criterion in projects.

In addition, Pedro de Monnou, as part of the WDO, participated in research in Berlin together with his colleagues Kimia and Muhammad. Research was conducted on how we can design more prosperous, cohesive and peaceful communities.

In this story, we share some reflections from this Berlin design week.

Design and ethics in times of technological acceleration

In the various talks and conversations we attended, there was a certain concern about the role of designers in a world led by technology. There was also a concern about the consequences of this technological acceleration, and the work of designers, for ethics and sustainability.

First of all, it is interesting to understand the difference between design professionals and design methods or approaches. On the one hand, there are people whose profession is framed within design: graphic, industrial, services... On the other hand, there are tools, methodologies and approaches to design that are used by professionals from other areas (even scientists) to innovate.

Second, there was discussion of how designers are the voice of ethics within organizations and projects. This is worth thinking about carefully, as people from other disciplines (such as science, marketing or engineering) also often bring the ethical debate to the table. Designers are not the only ones who care about people and the planet. However, we can say that these design tools and methodologies can help any professional in any discipline to create more ethical and sustainable solutions. So, what is the role of those of us who are dedicated to design in this context?

Design professionals have much to contribute in the following ways:

  • We are generalists, and therefore, connectors of different people and disciplines. This allows us to have an overview of where a project is going, what is the sense of what we are doing. It also makes it easier to find the most appropriatepartnerships for each project.
  • We go from theory to practice. With our methodologies, we connect research with action, which makes it easier for ethical reflection to be effectively put into practice.
  • Design activity involves adaptability and flexibility: we see this every day as we prototype and experiment, as part of the design process. This is something that contributes to resilience. In an age of uncertainty and constant change, design is responsible for detecting these changes early and making proposals for them.

In this sense, those of us who are dedicated to design have the ability to give meaning to what technology does. Define the purpose, in a very conscious way. An Artificial Intelligence (AI) will be able to execute projects more efficiently, but what is the sense of doing that project? What does it contribute to society? What is its purpose? Here we designers have a lot to say.

One interesting thing that was said in these conversations is that, with the advent of AI, we will move from being "problem solvers" to being "problem discoverers." So, we will be able to spend less time trying to solve a problem from a computer (since that will be done by the technology) and spend more time being creative about what we could do. And what we should do.

In short, those of us who work in design should not claim that we are the ones who make ethics present in every project. But, from a more humble point of view, we can facilitate that these ethical considerations become visible and materialize in practice. And this is key in a world increasingly led by technology.

Service Design, Design for Social Innovation

Earlier we talked about how design is able to connect research with action. In this case, Pedro, Kimia and Muhammad focused on theresearch part, through interviews in certain areas of Berlin, and through an interview on THF community radio.

From this research, recommendations can then be drawn to design solutions. These solutions do not have to be a concrete product. Traditional design used to focus on creating products, but now we create with a broader vision: we design a complete service. Design today acts in broader fields, no longer so focused on specific products.

In relation to this, some interesting ideas came up during the interviews and during the conversation on the community radio. Ayosha, the founder of THF radio was trained in Product Design. However, today he hardly designs products, but rather initiatives and services that are born with and from the community, such as the radio itself. Still, having experience in product design has given him the tools to start designing more global initiatives. This is a good example of Design for Social Innovation: a design less focused on products, and more on creating transformative solutions with the community.

To design these transformative solutions that help us move towards sustainability, designers have the role of mediators. Designers have always been mediators between technology, business and society: identifying what is feasible, viable and desirable for people. Now, we are also mediators between people within a group (a team, different departments of a company, or different stakeholders). Ecio Manzini already said this in his book 'When everyone designs: an introduction to design for social innovation'. And so did Ayosha, when we asked him about the challenges he encountered when co-designing an initiative like THF radio with the community.

In any case, when designing a service (such as community radio), Ayosha also ends up designing some more concrete products. For example, the furniture and the space where the radio activities take place. There is something very interesting about service design, and that is that you often have to design concrete products within the service. Also, as Ecio Manzini says, Service Design is the discipline that has more presence in the Design for Social Innovation.

A broader view of Design

At Berlin Design Week, we learned about a new design discipline:sound branding. We learned about it from Ramón Vives, co-founder of the Spanish branch of the agency Sixieme Son, who has been awarded at the IF awards in this new category. A brand experience goes far beyond the visual, as we know: at Sixieme Son they focus on creating the sound experience.

In line with this broader vision of design, which goes beyond the visual aspects, new design disciplines are appearing. We were very pleased to see that the IF awards are already considering the discipline of Service Design. At Monnou we have a very strong focus on service design, which considers the complete, global experience, and not just visual. As this approach is complex and seeks positive social impact, it is necessary to involve different visions; therefore, co-design and facilitation are very important.

As mentioned, Service Design has a high potential to contribute to social change and sustainability. In the world we live in, it is key to understand the importance of the context around the product. This has already been seen when talking about community projects such as THF radio, and it is also a theme that has appeared in the various events of Berlin Design Week.

Furthermore, in a society where fewer and fewer products are being sold, and more and more services are being offered (servitization), design must also change. Later, in future stories, we will talk in more detail about Service Design.

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