what is the future?
In the fifth Special Interview, Don Ryun Chang met with Victor Margolin, who will be the first keynote speaker of the 2015 International Design Congress. For decades, Margolin has conducted research on design history, and has laid the foundation for historical studies of design. Margolin received a Lifetime Achievement Award for Design Research from Cumulus and the Design Research Society this year.
“I believe we are at a global turning point. Design now has to be for social good and I’m shaping a vision of what a ‘good society’ could be and how design and designers could help to bring it about.”
— Victor Margolin, author of World History of Design, Professor Emeritus Design History at the University of Illinois
Designers of the past had visions of the future; they knew what our future should look like, and tried to make it happen. How? Who were they? At Eeum: "Design Connects", 2015 International Design Congress Margolin will talk about the most influential designers of our past, and tell us about what the future of design holds.
Don: I read the keynote memo. It is so curious that we can find out our future from the design history. How can it be possible? Could you let me know your keynote speech in detail?
VM: What I hope to show in my keynote is that the future cannot be predicted from the past but rather the future is based on values the we determine, usually based on past values. I plan to talk about designers in the past - William Morris at the turn of the 19th century, Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus, Buckminster Fuller, and others who had visions of the future. I want to look at their visions and then discuss the values they were based on. The argument I want to make is that the future is based on our own values. We decide, or some people decide, what our future should be like and then they try to make it happen. Sometimes it works and sometimes it is resisted. My talk will show how some designers in the past have sought to imagine the future and how successful or not they have been. I will end by looking at historic precedents for the kind of future we should be trying to bring about.
Don: I saw the Youtube video your daughter has made. It is amazing that you copy the sentences from the real reference for the card, and make big and long thought-involved materials, and then you organize all these elements on the computer. It requires a lot of effort. Why do you follow this process? Can you also talk a bit about the volumes of the World History of Design. What kind of things can readers gain from this enormous undertaking?
VM: My World History of Design is work of three volumes. I have completed two volumes and am working on the third. The first volume is from the beginning of human society to the end of World War I. The second volume is from the end of World War I to the end of World War II. And the third volume will be from the end of World War II to the present. Since there is so much material to coordinate, I had to develop a method for organizing it. For each chapter I have a bibliography or list of books and articles to use. I take notes from all those publications. Then I organize the notes on the big sheets of paper and that gives me a kind of diagram of the chapter. That’s what I follow when I write the chapter. Verbal to visual to verbal.
Writing the World History of Design
Don: Let’s talk about your workshop in 2015 IDC. The workshop is a challenge to design a participatory city. What is ‘a Participatory city’? Why is it needed nowadays? What can participant achieve after the workshop?
VM: I am looking forward to the workshop with my friend Dr. Rachel Cooper. The point is to show a range of projects that designers or design students could participate in to make a city a better place to live. The range of projects - urban gardens, composting, recycling, creating small services can all make the city better place. The students will learn how to design one of these projects in a group. When the workshop is over, they will know how to do something in the urban environment that they did not know before.
Don: All kinds of workshops can be separated in two characters: process and experience, or, visual result. How about yours?
"We are keeping our workshop as one unified experience. When it comes to the kind of design we are discussing, the physical form, as if you were designing a mobile phone, is so important. What is important is the quality of the project and the way it becomes useful within the city."
Don: This workshop is going with Professors Rachel Cooper. What is different from the workshop that you carry out alone? What will her role be in this joint endeavour?
VM: Dr. Cooper is an expert on cities and city design. I also know a lot about city design but have been more focused on urban projects. Dr. Cooper is very good at putting these projects into larger systemic structures.
Don: Victor Papanek said in 1971 in his book Design for the Real World: “The main trouble with design schools seems to be that they teach too much design and not enough about the ecological, social, economic, and political environment in which design takes place”. You said things have changed since then. However is it true? If not yet, how should educators and students learn an alternative curriculum to reflect this kind of phenomena?
VM: Victor Papanek was right. Today, designers have to take in many more complex environmental factors than they did in the past. Many schools are recognizing this but the hard part is to find people who can teach these new subjects in a design school. But educators are working on this and I think in ten or fifteen years there will be more evidence of Papanek's concerns in the design school curricula.
Don: Design confronts a variety of changes rapidly. It can’t be expected the future and the factor making change is growing and growing. In the complicated situation, how do you see the process of design changing and how does that relate to your current and future attitude for your diverse activities as an educator and an author.
VM: I believe we are at a global turning point where we need to change the way we fundamentally think about design. There are many local and global problems, small and large, that need to be addressed. Some design educators are preparing their students for these and others are not. Another problem is that design arose as commercial practice in the market and was paid for companies who wanted to improve their sales. The question now is who will pay for design for social good, even though it is very necessary. I have two projects. One is to finish the third volume of my world history, which I am doing now and the other is to help shape a vision of what a "good society" could be and how design and designers could help to bring it about. I have written an article about the good society and would be happy to share it with you. It was the lead article in a recent book published in the Netherlands by 010 Publishers. It is called Designing for the Good Society and I have one of the essays in it.
Don: Now there is a big gap between design as the section and real job. Design is taking a more important role to solve the problems about environment, urban, sustainability etc, but in the same time, job stability to financial support for designer extremely shake because of many things like ‘design democracy’. What do you think about the phenomenon, and could you give some advice?
VM: Yes, there are problems with the future of design practice. However, we have to work on demonstrating a new kind of professionalism. With the maker movement, digital printers, and other new technology, some design will be replaced by technology. But there are so many big new complex problems for designers to take on. Designers may have to work harder to develop their own projects to create. No one can replace that.
Don: An important theme for our Congress is multi-disciplinary approach, and the title of our Congress is “Design Connects.” What do you feel the most appropriate multi-disciplinary approach for design will be? How do you want to embed the value of multi-disciplinary collaboration in terms of what designers can do in their roles in the society?
VM: I think the ultimate multidisciplinary approach of design is the design of society itself. When we work at a level of complex problems we need to find ways to accommodate the voices of different disciplines. This is true in standard project design where product designers have to work with engineers, production managers, marketing people etc. and then at a larger scale, where designers get involved in systems design and need collaborators who understand systems in different ways so that all can take a common project and complement each other. We need to develop a new design language so that designers with different skills can communicate with each other.
About Eeum: "Design Connects"
Eeum can literally be translated in Korean to something akin to a ‘joint’ or ‘connector’ or ‘bridge’.
Conceived of as a visionary event that seeks to embrace and champion design as a vital platform for integrated, open-ended collaboration, participation and discussion, the Congress agenda is to furnish exchange between diverse disciplines, bringing them together for a single cohesive experience, creating opportunities for integration, dialogue and encounters between designers and non designers whose paths previously may not have crossed.
Architects, interior architects, industrial designers, visual communication designers, landscape architects, marketing scholars, service designers, information designers, typographers, researchers, planners, artists, design enthusiasts and interaction designers will all converge on the city of Gwangju in South Korea for: Workshops, the Academic Conference, the City Culture Design Summit, and Exhibitions between 17-23 October 2015.
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