Wednesday, April 29, 2009

MBA elective: Think-and-make-tank for Soul of Africa

During a one-day workshop, 37 MBA students worked with 11 designers from different disciplines to help frame and tackle some of the current challenges facing Soul of Africa, which employs women hand-stitching shoes which are sold internationally, with the profits going back to support AIDS-affected communities in South Africa.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Think-and-make-tank for Soul of Africa

Tomorrow, the 36 or so MBAs taking my Design Leadership elective will be joined by 12 designers and three representatives from Soul of Africa, for a one-day workshop.  The aim of the event is to bring together the ways of problem framing and solving typically used by MBAs with designers from different disciplines, to help Soul of Africa engage with some of the challenges it is faced with. From Soul of Africa, we will be joined by co-founder Lance Clark, Galahad Clark of Terraplana, Franziska Amaral, and Martin Foley. Soul of Africa was originally started with £30,000 and has raised over $2m which has been invested into South African communities affected by AIDS. Women handstitch shoes which are then shipped to the UK and US, and sold in major retail outlets such as Clarks and Next. 

The designers - selected from an open call to participate to which over 75 people responded - are from backgrounds in textiles and fashion, graphics, industrial design, design management, interaction design. They are: Titi Abiola, Stephanie Chen, Jason Coop, Rachel Manning, Dejan Mitrovic, Kathryn Moores, Olive Ntkula, Lars Rosengren, Pammi Sinha, Tom Tobia and Rachel Turner. 

To help facilitate the day, my colleagues and others helping are: Marc Ventresca, university lecturer in innovation at the school; Sarabajaya Kumar, Skoll Centre for Social Entpreneurship; Trudi Lang, DPhil candidate, InSIS; Meng Zhao, DPhil candidateCaroline Norman, Birmingham Institute of Art and Design, course leader MA Design Management; and Hermeet Gill, MBA alumnus who did my elective last year. We'll also be joined for some of the day by Pamela Hartigan, director of the Skoll Centre for Social Entpreneurship. I'm grateful for their support and for our internal admin team for making this happen. 

In a week or two I'll be posting a short film showing some of the day's activities and some the approaches we are using. Right now, however, I need to go and make some props. 

Thursday, April 09, 2009

The difference between art and design: Aurabox

One of the things that comes up in discussions of design is if, and how, it's different from art. At last week's European Academy of Design in Aberdeen, there was talk of critical design, a term associated with Dunne and Raby (see my earlier post about the conference) as well as other practitioners. One of the claims Fiona Raby made in her keynote at EAD was that in contemporary art, now you can do pretty much anything, nothing is shocking or draws attention, whereas it can be a radical gesture to present an artefact in the context of design, inviting audiences to imagine something in use through proposition and speculation.

Here's a contribution to that discussion. It's a work called Aurabox (2005). It looks a bit like something you might buy at IKEA. But what is not (yet) at IKEA is the two embedded LED lights indicating the status of the object's aura, either on or off. It's inspired by Walter Benjamin's idea in The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (1936) that "that which withers in the age of mechanical reproduction is the aura of the work of art.". Here's a short film showing the Aurabox in the group show Product and Vision in Berlin in 2005.

Monday, April 06, 2009

European Academy of Design 2009: Design Connextity

This is an image from Dunne & Raby's Technological Dreams Series: No.1 Robots (2007). Fiona Raby was one of the keynotes at last week's European Academy of Design 2009 conference in Aberdeen. What I enjoyed about the conference was its ability to step through several of contemporary design's realities, from work by Dunne and Raby (as exemplars of "critical design") to mainsteam design management to Josephine Green, who helps Philips think about and visualise futures. Fiona teaches on MA Design Interactions at the RCA, and alongside her and Tony's work, showed lots by their students (some of whom were collaborators with my MBA students on a short project in 2007). At the other extreme, Josephine Green gave insights into how a traditional manufacturer of objects is using design to visualise and rethink its core activities to engage with some of the challenges facing contemporary societies (see some slides from a similar talk here). I also very much enjoyed the talk by Julian Bleecker of the Near Future Lab, originally an engineer, now following what he calls an "undisciplined practice" at Nokia's Design Strategic Projects studio in LA. Julian's stated aim of creating more habitable near futures by combining material practices with knowledge practices was a model which complements my own efforts.

Ideas running round this conference included the fairly standard (how can design's value be understood...communicated...appreciated) to new disciplinary specialisms (eg service design, design for sustainability). For me, the benefit of attending, in addition to catching up with UK and international colleagues, was hearing how distinct approaches to design - from critical design, to Daria Loi's work in the Digital Homes group at Intel, to Stuart Walker's gentle arrangements- all involve the material practices of design in making things public through creating visual and tangible forms.