“Design as a catalyser” – Ezio Manzini talks at the RCA

Posted on January 25, 2011


January 25, 2011.


“DESIGN AS A CATALYSER – Design in the age of networks and sustainability”
Ezio Manzini talks at the RCA


Yesterday, on the 24th of January, we went to one of the RCA Sustain Talks, to hear Professor Ezio Manzini, professor of Industrial Design at the Politecnico di Milano, where, alongside many other academic activities, he is Director of Unit of Research Design and Innovation for Sustainability.

The talk he conducted was entitled: “DESIGN AS CATALYSER – Design in the age of networks and sustainability”. He shortly presented his views on design as a catalyst for social innovation, which meets exactly with the views and objectives of this blog and our MA course in Design for Development at Kingston. He also introduced DESIS, a social network of design schools that he is coordinating, with a focus on Social Innovation and Sustainability through Design.

With his brilliant (to me) Italian accent, he started talking about the natural and social opportunities that are around us and that “the obligation of being creative is for everybody”, not only for designers. I personally believe it is a  very hard reality for many designers to accept and incorporate into their design projects… but we are getting there!

He also spoke about the ‘heroes’ of our society, the very normal people that are already taking part into ‘a soft revolution’, by collaborating within their communities, visioning and playing their role in a more sustainable future for our planet.

Professor Manzini has a very positive view about society’s sustainable development practices, when he says that 30 years ago the agricultural system was the only idea of sustainable development, otherwise we couldn’t find another view of a different future for our society. He says:

” Nowadays there are a lot of people and a growing number of people that have different ideas. There is a competition between the mainstream model and another one that is starting to appear… A hyper individualization is making a new structure of the neighbourhood, a new way of taking care of the environment… and also in this case something is starting to appear, a new idea of a cyberspace, … a new idea of an elective neighbourhood, the thing could be for the social services. There are a lot of very interesting ideas that are competing with the traditional one … and the common denominator is we can imagine a new citizen that is active”.

“It is a behavioural change according to available local products”

Another enlightening observation he made was the new idea that sustainability is not only about ‘reducing consumption’ but ‘increasing something else’, which includes a new way of relationship with the services available. He gave the example of big supermarkets, where we can find any kind of food we want at any time of the year, but this kind of behaviour can not be acceptable anymore. In the ‘new’ idea of local based food networks, the community have a different and better quality of relationship with the product that they are buying and its production, and another quality in the choice: one enjoys buying and eating the food available for that season simply because it is what is available, and they accept this new reality because it is what creates the changes.

“Sustainability is about redefining the quality of
Spaces, Time, Food, Being Capable and Relationships”

The quality of space has changed as well on how we use public spaces to slow down the speed of our lives. And a new way of organizing the economic activities are happening fast as well, where we can discover the joy of those local community based activities.

“Small = Local = Connected = Open”

For Professor Ezio Manzini we, designers, are now being pushed to think differently. We are challenged to have a new attitude and start to design for the ‘local’ and design for the communities.

“We are not designing for the final product, but we are designing tools
that help communities and individuals to solve their own problems”

At the end, following those ideas above, the professor mentioned the DESIS project, an international social network that he is organizing, which connects with design schools, where students can work on laboratories of projects for the communities, as a free design agency for a social change.

*by Paula Ligo.