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Design Debates

A new programme at the Designhuis in Eindhoven is bringing the hottest design topics to the stage with a series of debates.  The list of speakers shows just how broad design thinking has become.

By Gabrielle Kennedy / 07-03-2013

Design has expanded so far beyond the domain of objects that many people seem to be left wondering just what design now is. Design Debates is doing well to address the question.

In the inaugural Design Debate design overload was the topic.  Just how much design can one digest?  Plagiarism, gaming, craftism and sustainism have also been targeted as issues in need of more discussion.

What’s interesting about these debates is that speakers from across disciplines are involved thus showing how design thinking can be applied more broadly.

“Of course one does need to have some design baggage to participate in design thinking and criticism,” says Bart Heerdink, project manager at The New Institute.  “Thinking, tinkering and creating are inextricably linked."  Heerdink is from The New Institute which is coordinating Design Debates along with Danielle Arets from the Design Academy and Ellen Zoete from Onomatopee.

In the design overload debate designer and futurist Liam Young made the point that design should not have to be easy to digest.

And it is not the point of the debates to bring design into the intellectual consciousness of a broader audience. “I'm not sure if the design debates belong in mainstream dialogue,” admits Heerdink.  “Some of our subjects are definitely mainstream, but I believe design also needs to explore new and unknown boundaries outside of mainstream dialogue.”

In the craftism debate the focus was on the emotional impact of crafts. “You can contrast this, for example, with more impersonal industrial design or product design,” says Heerdink.  “I think designers from all disciplines embrace craft as a very resourceful tool to communicate emotion to an audience.”

Plagiarism and copy culture was also a well-attended debate.  As many as 500 people attend the most popular debates.  “The tide is really changing when it comes to the whole idea of copying,” says Heerdink.  “The original idea in a design is certainly becoming harder to trace and in this digital era anyone can mix, match, blur and create something new that originates from a whole host of other ideas.”

Heerdink uses the example of the "Mal 1956" a garden chair version of an Eames lounge created by Bob Copray.  Copray was present during the debate with his chair. The question about whether the chair plagiarized Eames or simply looked to the iconic object for inspiration ignited a clash of opinions.

Copray asserts that his design is unique and only references Eames.  “He really does feel that he created something new,” says Heerdink.  “The material, the idea behind it and the function of the chair do not correspond to the Eames chair.  It is only the shape or the outline of the design that is similar.  The look and feel of both chairs are completely different. If you sit on it, the hard uncomfortable feeling of the plastic makes the difference between the two designs even more clear.”

Gaming and design was another recent debate topic. Gaming to create fantasy situations for leisure, but also to provide practitioners from all industries with virtual mock-up models.  Doctors, insurance brokers and bankers can all benefit.

“This is a good example of how broad design thinking has become, “ says Heerdink.  “Design is no longer a limited term or a product; it is a process that dominates life. Design connects or transcends different disciplines or domains like for instance architecture and e-culture. Games will become ever more important in our lives as a wonderful and cost-efficient tool to experience other or new realities before they exist. This is especially important in education where we are now confronted with a large group of young students that have been brought up in the digital age and really feel at home in increasingly digital and simulated surroundings.”



The next Design Debate at the Designhuis in Eindhoven will be on 27th March and is about Design, Energy & Sustainability.

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