[Also available: David Byrne/Bruce Mau interview in Contemporary Magazine (PDF, 576 kb)]
In alphabetical order:
Stairs identifies three crucial problems:
“Remote experience is, consequently, one of the issues curators face in mounting such an exhibition, and it is a price we, in the West, pay for our mediated existence. Too often design solutions are remote solutions, even by those with years’ work in the developing world (myself very much included). The only reference I could find in the catalog to this problem was Martin Fisher’s observation that poor families like to prepare their main meal indoors in the evening, when solar cookers are considerably less effective — an issue contradicted in exhibiting a solar stove made from bicycle parts.
A second fallacy afflicting design thinking is what I call instrumentalization, or the notion that technology can, more often than not, provide the solution. Designers are especially susceptible to this delusion, perhaps because they are often trained to solve immediate rather than long-term problems. By way of example, inventions like the Hippo and Q water rollers work well at alleviating hard work over level ground, but are less effective than a jerrycan headload over meandering, hilly, narrow footpaths. Or, the exhibition’s catalog shows an Indian man in a workplace illuminated by a solar lighting system, but ironing clothes with a charcoal-heated iron. Similarly, the PermaNet — a specially-treated mosquito net — repels bugs for twice as much time as conventionally-treated nets. Regrettably, as it was displayed in the exhibition, it did not reach the ground; this is precisely the real-world oversight that heat-seeking vectors take advantage of in Africa.
Gargantuan thinking is a third error: the need to house the world’s population, eliminate disease, and reverse global warming. (Here I much prefer Wes Janz’s onesmallproject to Bruce Mau’s Massive Change.)”
“Is there a realistic response designers from developed countries can offer? A starting point might be to recognize that in many cases, we don’t need to remake other people or their societies in our image and likeness. The idea of design intervention — sustainable or otherwise — may feel very intrusive to people who are still reeling from 150 years of colonial intervention. (You don’t just waltz into a patriarchal society and aggressively advocate equal opportunity for women, or deliver pumps and boreholes to peasant farmers without understanding the sociology of migratory herdsmen). Living among other people and learning to appreciate their values, perspectives and social mores is an excellent tool of design research. (To their credit, both Polak and Fisher have spent considerable time abroad, not just user-testing, but living and working with their client-partners.) Education is also a wonderful access point, as is a required second language. But how many design curricula are supporting, let alone implementing such global initiatives?”
The article got 58 comments so far and was featured on the Core77 webzine.
The symposium explored the impact of urban life around the world, and laid out visions for a sustainable urban future. Sustainable cities will be built from a mix of the disciplines these changemakers are armed with.
David Zaks and Chad Monfreda of WorldChanging asked each of them the same question: What tool, model or idea do you see as being the key to bright green cities?
The experts included Bruce Mau, creative director of Bruce Mau Design, Inc. and a founder of the Institute without Boundaries; Jimmy Wales, founder and Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Wikimedia Foundation; John Todd, founder of John Todd Ecological Design and president of Ocean Arks International; Sadhu Johnston, Commissioner of the City of Chicago Department of Environment; Hazel Henderson, an evolutionary economist, futurist, syndicated columnist and consultant on sustainable development; Dayna Baumeister, a biologist in the field of biomimicry, an educator and design consultant; Gunter Pauli, a sustainability educator and entrepreneur who founded and directs Zero Emissions Research and Initiatives (ZERI); Mary Czerwinski, an expert in interruption science and human-computer interaction, who leads the Visualization and Interaction (VIBE) Research Group at Microsoft; and Gregg Easterbrook, a contributing editor of the Atlantic Monthly and the New Republic and a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institute.
I recommend you to read all answers but in the context of this blog, the reply by Microsoft’s Mary Czerwinski is quite relevant, yet also a bit puzzling. In her answer, Czerwinski only scratches the surface, doesn’t go as deep as the other experts, and does not refer to Bill Gates’ huge commitment to sustainable change.
“There is a group at Microsoft that is trying to work on this problem, going into cities like Bogota, Colombia and seeing what kind of technological solutions can be used there. What Microsoft has done on the product side has been to do a ton of ethnography where they go down and live with families in developing countries and really try to learn how they use technology and where the holes and gaps are in the technology. Then they come back to the product team. They share these stories with them. In fact, they blog them as they go, which is really nice. Then they try to develop solutions based on the user problems that they actually identified. There have been some product solutions that have been released. Really cheap computers running really simple versions of Windows have already been released and have been very successful. We have prototypes now in India where illiterate women living in shanties can hook up with employers as maids, so the user interface is completely text free. The tool behind all of this is the ethnography, and figuring out what people really need.”
“These examples and far more are packed into Massive Change, the multimedia exhibit that made its U.S. debut Sept. 16 at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. The exhibit is the brainchild of Mau, a Toronto designer internationally renowned for his graphics work. But of all the points the show makes, and it makes many, the most obvious is how far design reaches in our lives, beyond visual expression and product development.”
“The show presents design as a method of creative problem-solving that can be applied to large social problems such as hunger, housing shortages, or energy for the Third World. ‘We have to liberate design from fixating on the visual,’ says Mau. ‘Instead we wanted to think about design as the capacity to effect change.’”