Activate the Future!

What can designers do with their idealism in these days of crisis?

moderator: Tim Vermeulen
speakers: Zuzanna Skalska, Tamar Shafir, Pete Collard


Our world is in crisis. The economic troubles that began in 2008 are still making their effects felt. In the face of pressing questions about the distribution of wealth, the achievability of universal prosperity, and the need to look at how our excesses are affecting the world around us, perhaps we should seize the current crisis as an opportunity to do things differently in the future. This idea seems to be catching on in the design world. But is it just hollow rhetoric and business as usual, or are things really going to change? At this Milan Breakfast, we'll talk to some tastemakers about the contemporary face of design engagement and how we should activate design’s new future.

Every era has its design idealism, from early modernism to Buckminster Fuller’s ideal of a designable world and Victor Papanek’s moral wakeup call. What makes ours different? It's striking that in recent years, more and more often, overt statements about how things
could be different take the form of questions.

The 2005 symposium What Crisis? Design in the Age of Confusion, held at the first Utrecht Manifest social design biennial, centred around two questions: How could designers help to solve society's current problems? And: How far should their engagement extend? There was confusion around the contrast between the apparently inexhaustible possibilities for development and prosperity and the impending climate crisis, inequitable distribution of global wealth, and the need for meaning in a time of unbridled materialism. Bruce Mau poses similar questions in his book Massive Change. For Mau, change no longer seems to be merely a question of having good ideas but of searching for the right way to apply them. Is old-fashioned idealism due for a new pragmatism?


Zuzanna Skalska

Tim Vermeulen