Amsterdam in Spring, Barcelona in Summer

As a DHS Barcelona warm-up, I’ve attended the ‘What Design Can Do!‘ conference this week in Amsterdam.

Presented as an ‘activist conference’ about the impact of design, it certainly featured some doyens of controversy such as Oliviero Toscani. A refreshing feature of the conference was its geographical reach. MP Ranjan from Ahmedabad, Adelia Borges from Sao Paolo, Lebanese typographic designer Huda Abifares and urban designer Rohan Shivkumar from Mumbai were important in bringing other experiences to the table.

Above all, ‘What Design Can Do!’ was notable for its energy. It mixed a single-track set of presentations from designers and critics with break-out workshops, message posting, great parties and, even, the production of a conference book during the event itself.

One observation. There was no doubting the commitment on the part of speakers and delegates as to rethinking how design can have an effective role in changing the world. Designers are poised to propose and implement new economic arrangements and systems and, indeed, have done so in the past. But the conference didn’t quite get there. There seemed to be a tacit acceptance on the part of most speakers that neo-liberalism is here to stay.

There have been numerous designers in the past who have considered this question:  from William Morris to Superstudio and beyond. ‘What Design Can Do!’ was inspiring. DHS Barcelona will be quite a different conference, more aimed at academic, historical and theoretical enquiry.  Of course it will also be inspiring, as well! And it will be summer, so bring your bathing costumes.

In the meantime, thankyou Richard van der Laken, graphic designer and initiator of ‘What Design Can Do!’.

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