Design is needed in a state of crisis

When societal change accelerates we need not only new solutions; we need a new framework and the idea that a new world is possible. Scholar and leading thinker on social innovation Ezio Manzini spoke at Design Session about how this calls for design.

  • Ezio Manzini began his presentation showing the truck where more than 70 refugees were found dead in Austria in August 2015.
    Ezio Manzini began his presentation showing the truck where more than 70 refugees were found dead in Austria in August 2015.
  • Programme Manager in DDC, Sune Knudsen welcomes and presents the first Design Session.
    Programme Manager in DDC, Sune Knudsen welcomes and presents the first Design Session.
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  • Ezio Manzini and CEO of DDC Christian Bason discusses Manzinis points with each other and the audience.
    Ezio Manzini and CEO of DDC Christian Bason discusses Manzinis points with each other and the audience.
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It was a great pleasure, to have Ezio Manzini, one of the world’s leading thinkers in design and social innovation, to kick of our Design Sessions Tuesday 8 September. Design Session is series of in depth talks about the state of design – as term and skill.

In the week leading up to Ezio Manzini’s visit, refugees had crossed the Danish borders and were walking north along the highway headed for Sweden. A very tangible yet tiny representation of the enormous challenge that the world is facing in light of millions of people fleeing war, poverty and other disasters. And Ezio Manzini started right there.

“We are in a state of crises,” he said. Not only referring to the refugee crisis, but also, to what he called the unsustainable capitalist system. This fundamental statement is the starting point of Manzini’s latest book Design: When everybody designs. To avoid collapse we need not only radical new solutions, we need a new framework; the idea that a new world is possible, Manzini says.

And that calls for design. Not only from design professionals. We need design skills applied in collaboration between, what Manzini calls diffuse design – our basic human capability of creativity and our critical- and practical sense, and expert design – the expertise learnt via studies and experience.

Accelerated societal change accelerates the need for design

“We have two different modalities. One is to do what we have always done. And we call it the conventional modality; following conventions,” Manzini says. “But in some cases you cannot follow conventions, you have to invent another way of doing things. And we can call that design modality.” 

“ To avoid collapse we need not only radical new solutions, we need a new framework; the idea that a new world is possible”

“If we can, we use the conventional modality, because it is quit less tiring. If what has always been done works, it’s probably because it works well. Because it has been proven,” Manzini continues and points out, that this approach works in a system or society that is relatively stable and conventions therefor develop very slowly.

“But when you have some rupture, and things change fast you face problems that you cannot solve in the conventional modality. In that case, you have to use another capability, that is the one of designing a solution,” Ezio Manzini says.

The acceleration of societal change that we have been witnessing in the past decades has accelerated the need for design. And since everyone has the capability to design, and many ideas emerge among grass roots and in the civil society, the role of design expert becomes to facilitate the discussion and help the process of co-creation with non-expert designers.

Emerging design

In this sense the understanding of design is changing as well as the role of the designer, who is at the center of the changing circumstances.

“Me, and everybody of my age, have been trained in a period of which design was considered some capability in the culture that was related to industry; mostly called industrial design, says Ezio Manzini.” As industrial products were brand new, you needed to design them. But design spread to services, to the way we organise institutions, to everything that is the process of transformation. And this broader more fluid condition of design Manzini calls emerging design. As he explains:

“In my view, if we put all the different names together that we give to design today: Service, strategic, interaction, material etc. maybe it’s better to change the definition; to say, we have design, and that can be applied in whatever area that is asking for this capability. I call it emerging design because it is visibly spreading, this new attitude, in a very short time. I also like to call it the design of the 21st Century, because most likely it will be the one that will characterise the next decades,” Manzini says.

Watch the full interview with Ezio Manzini:
Part one: Accelerated societal change accelerate the need for design.
Part two: From Industrial Design to Social Innovation.