Last Friday morning, I gathered with about 90 interested folks at the Celeste Bartos Theatre in New York to hear a talk by MoMA’s Senior Curator of Architecture and Design, Paola Antonelli. This was the latest Creative Morning, a concept/event developed by the energetic Tina Roth Eisenberg. You might know her as Swiss Miss.
Paola is totally prolific as a thinker of design and participant in its critical discourse. She has given two TED Talks, written articles for several design/culture magazines (one of my favorites is here) and curated exhibitions at MoMA that expand our cultural understanding of what design is and what it might be. Perhaps her most renowned show was Design and the Elastic Mind, which brought together science, technology and design; for this event, she collaborated with editors of the excellent Seed magazine. She also has a lovely Italian accent.
Notes from the Talk
Throughout the talk, Paola offered a few really fascinating and eloquently posed insights worth sharing here. My commentary (based on or mixed with Paola’s thoughts) is underneath the bold.
- This is a great moment for design.
- Paola moved to NYC in 1994, a time when the word design meant either objects or architecture. And those worlds did not collide. Now, design is or can be about communication through the logical platform for a message. For a company, design might be a printed media kit; for a park, it might be environmental signage; for a city, it might be the organization of a subway system to move millions of citizens across town; for you, it might be a website. Design is everywhere and includes everyone. That’s what’s so beautiful about it. Right now, design refers to a transdisciplinary approach to ideas based on the integration of forms because of overarching common states, such as our global need for sustainable living.
- Design + Information = …
- Another way of thinking about this concept is: design reportage, a lovely term Paola noted in her talk. I’m drawn to this idea because it relates also to writing (or perhaps any medium/s) where creative experimentation mixes with direct reportage (a classic example being Capote’s In Cold Blood, and a more contemporary example being DFW’s Consider the Lobster). Infographics seem to be one intersecting point for these three mediums: reportage, writing, design. (Have you noticed the surge in them lately? Everyone from 826 National to FastCompany to is using them in some capacity.) Anyway, infographics can be potent communicators of current events. Take Laura Kurgan’s Million Dollar Blocks project, in which she delineates certain blocks across the country where millions of dollars are spent incarcerating residents. In Kurgan’s example, design is used to visualize an important trend in a city’s spending and suggest where our public policies are failing.
- Engagement/participation is critical.
- Through design, we can produce scenarios that promote dialogue, rather than products. Last year, I had a show (video here) in which I drew all of my thoughts on a wall over the course of a week. It was a visual essay/performance type of thing and I left spaces on the walls for visitors to write in their own ideas. A bowl of Crayola markers was left out. And visitors participated! At the opening, several people came up to me to discuss their thoughts while experiencing the show. It was this beautiful kind of engagement where I wanted the show to be completed through audience participation. So, when Paola spoke about leaving exhibitions slightly unfinished in order for the audience to complete them conceptually, I was delighted. She says you need to trust your public to engage with ideas, spread them and contribute to them.
- Disruptive innovation demands everyone’s participation.
- One audience member asked about an article stating that scientists and technologists are innovators, while the role of designers is to physically present those innovations. Innovation, Paola responded, is more complex than a lightbulb and therefore demands the participation of everyone. Bringing this concept to her forthcoming exhibition at MoMA, Talk to Me, Paola has created a blog in which anyone can suggest ideas to be included in the show. Innovation is a process, is experimental and can be inclusive.
On Creative Mornings
Swiss Miss has designed an interesting and refreshing opportunity here, where interested minds come together for a short while to mingle, eat and collectively think not just about design, but its application within the world. Tickets for Creative Mornings sell out in about 30-40 minutes, by my calculations, and if you can’t make it to the physical locale, Swiss Miss posts videos online (to be posted soon). This is another example of how ideas and information are increasingly accessible for free through the internet. Because of corporate sponsorship, the talks are free to anyone who signs up. Accessible, stimulating and participatory. Kudos to this forward-thinking conversation and event.
(There’s a write-up over at Soulellis Studio, too!)