2011 What Design Can Do For You

800 designers attend first edition of

Designers are working for peace in Afghanistan. In the next hall of Amsterdam’s main theatre, Indian architect Rohan Shivkumar is poking fun at the ego-tripping attitude of Western design culture. Just as renowned photographer Oliviero Toscani is grumbling about the excess of commercial design weakened by compromise, a conference delegation heads into the city to solve the problem of bikes scattered everywhere. The first edition of What Design Can Do, an activist gathering about the social impact of design, amounted to a rollercoaster ride for designers.

Eight hundred designers from all professions – fashion, interior, product, architecture and graphics – came together in Amsterdam on May 26 and 27 because they believe in the problem-solving capacity of design. Dutch luminaries like designer Jurgen Bey, MVRDV architect Jacob van Rijs and fashion designer Monique van Heist addressed the conference. So too did the Chinese architect Liu Xiaodu of the firm Urbanus, and AKZO Nobel design manager Per Nimer, who spoke about the importance of a colourful world, and Brazilian designer Paula Dib, who allows local communities in the Amazon and Namibia to benefit from the success of her successful contemporary designs.
Pragmatism was the key for the Dutch organizers of the first edition of what is intended to become a yearly gathering of socially motivated designers. Designers are used to think in terms of solutions. Let them not only think about the shape but also think about the contribution they can make in tackling social issues.
That is why, during What Design Can Do, social designer Martijn Engelbregt and the No Academy sent conference participants out onto the street with the task of solving the problem of thousands of bikes abandoned all over the city. A design emerged spontaneously in which a bike wreck could be transformed, with just a couple of grips, into a bike rack.
While the No Academy zoomed in on a small issue, the Dutch club Butterfly Works didn’t shy away from organizing a session on What Design Can Do for Afghanistan. Crafting Peace is a project that brings together various stages of the production chain in problem areas. And to ensure that turnover can be created in the West. Designers, craftsmen and traders profit locally from exotic textile birds that are sold in ten countries thanks to Crafting Peace.

Two days of What Design Can Do illustrated what design really can do. Whether grounded solely in social motives or more in market considerations, creativity can make a difference between good and bad solutions. In addition to presentations from China and India, the Brazilian design expert Adélia Borges argued that designers from Western countries could learn more from non-Western countries than vice versa.
At the end of the two-day conference, Richard van der Laken, creative director of What Design Can Do, presented the Big Book of Ideas to trend forecaster Lidewij Edelkoort. The book gathers together all the ideas that surfaced during the conference. After the conference, Van der Laken concluded that, ‘The time for lacking engagement is over’.

What Design Can Do was made possible thanks to the support of DutchDFA, SNS Reaalfonds, Amsterdam Fund for the Arts, the Netherlands Foundation for Visual Arts, Design and Architecture, Het Parool newspaper, Design Cooperation Brainport, the Netherlands Architecture Institute, Premsela, the Association of Dutch Designers (BNO), and Stichting Doen.

Note for the press; not for publication

For more information:
Eric Wie, eric@comeamsterdam.com, 00 31 6 51967233
Bob Witman, bob@comeamsterdam.com 00 31 6 42594009