Tuesday, November 01, 2005

On design

On design by Cati Vaucelle

While the 16th of October 2005 the New York Times discusses prophecies made on the recent devastating situations, my response as a designer is to define a role of the designer in conceiving products that could support the after-shock of such catastrophes. While preventing earthquakes or hurricanes is still scientifically difficult, integrating political and social awareness into the conception of products for emergency support during and after an event could prevent the usual consequences of the natural disasters.

Journalists report on an event and represent the truth of an event, however the power of photography is immense; we watch documentaries, read newspapers by just ‘eye gaze scrolling, looking mainly at the pictures and thinking we are informed. Today, visual media is the favorite instrument of the development of information. The quantity of information cannot decrease. If the production of events is independent of the journalist, the everyday media consumption of the audience is constant. Journalists look for shocking visuals on a reality that does not deserve it and this reality then takes an abnormal importance. According to the cultural theorist and philosopher Jean Baudrillard, the Gulf War disinformation made not the events but the information become the scandal. We now look for the credibility of the truth and because of the lack of credibility in modern visuals, journalists use emotions to make spectators believe in the truth of the scene. As soon as it deserves the population’s attention, such as the series of natural disasters that have happened recently, the event cannot just be rationally described, the scale of dramatization having changed, reality has to be linked to some para normal phenomena, and thus journalists propagate, even if by questioning, the theories about prophecies and mystification of the events. Always stepping away from what is actually happening, and even though prophecies might be in actions, the only idea of not focusing of what is needed in such an emergency situation is renouncing to our responsibility as citizen.

Within this context, the designer conceives solutions to prevent -if possible- discomfort coming from threatening disasters, and engage in a discussion about what can be done to support a population before, during and after a catastrophe. Usually journalists discuss what is demanded through fascination for the 'spectacle'. They succeed most of the time in mobilizing the attention of citizens and raise funding to contribute to the global 'first days' help. However, after a few weeks attention is driven somewhere else. Even though resilience phenomena is taking place in the touched population, a considerable proportion of its actors may die of the disaster consequences few weeks later.

The responsibility as a designer today facing the major international problems borrows the philosophy of the Ulm School of Design of the post war in 1949 as it integrates political, social and scientific approach to design. A designer could want to change the dynamics in the world immediately and design solutions depending on the inter relationships between the agents in control. This is for instance one of the missions of Veja, a firm that uses material for fair trade, selecting ecological products, and producing objects in dignity. A designer could also want to enable a better democracy positioned politically and raising social questions. As much as the Ulm school of design introduced, as an example for their students, courageous persons who have risked their lives in resistance to a way of life they knew was fundamentally incompatible with their own values, designers today have the privilege to potentially combine political and social solutions to the design of effective products and or media.

Recently, we can then read a lot about comparative scale of death tolls, and indeed, at 7.6 magnitude, the earthquake was said to be the strongest to hit South Asia in a century and as killed around 55, 000 people with a death toll still raising. What is even of most importance for a designer is to prevent more death and more disease. The earthquake has thus left millions of persons homeless and evacuation plans have been prepared, expecting a threatening cold winter and accumulating rainy days that will certainly worsen the situation, and the population is then vulnerable to disease threats from the devastated public sanitation systems. Relief supplies are in place, but it is necessary to empower the population by relocating them in a new home. Could it be then a priority to create an emergency structure involving the design of mobile homes, health centers and toys structure to provide immediate psychological relief? What if all the survivors could have access to such immediate structure encouraged by the government? What if products were carefully designed integrating local knowledge with comfort and necessary means of existence. Could it bring them away a little from the drama? What if these components were mobile and easily transportable to allow them to be at the desired location in a minute? An instant support.

The mission of design today is to offer concrete solutions to such gigantic social and economic disasters as the attempt of Peter Brewin and William Crawford at the Royal College of Art in designing inflatable concrete and flexible long-term shelters for supporting the population after devastating events:
All the materials to create a robust and durable concrete shelter for disaster relief are combined within a plastic sack. The sacks can be easily transported to the necessary location. Water is added to the sack on site and the plastic inner can then be inflated to create a shelter. The concrete mix covering the inner sets in 4 hours leaving a structure that has a 15 year life-span, keeping cool during the day and retaining heat through the night

The role of the designer is to rethink the linkage between propagated information and the actual flux of events into concrete design solutions considering the dynamics in actions between political debates and social implications. Involving the population as soon as possible in the design process is also a way to have active participation and awareness of the current events, empowering it to participate and by this diminishing its feeling of powerless that contributes to its uncomfortable and useless disaster mystification and fear of prophecies.

By Cati in product design

No comments: