When I went to Compostmodern in 2006 – an interdisciplinary design conference dedicated to transforming products, industries and lives through sustainable design choices – Kalle Lasn creator of Adbusters magazine bought me a free steak dinner. I was a student completing my final year at Emily Carr Institute for Art and Design and even though I was a vegetarian, I was hungry for wisdom so I took him up on the invitation. Hats off to freeganism and generous keynote speakers.
At this year’s Compostmodern conference I had two passes: the one I bought in advance and a free blogging pass I was offered just before the event. I decided to up-cycle and give my pass to a Google employee who needed a ticket. Google has given me a lot of free tools (and a free lunch at the Google cafeteria my first day in SF) so I thought I would return the favour.
This small gesture set the stage for a common theme running through many of the presentations that day; designers are doing a lot of work these days to ensure there is social equity and plenty of freebies for all.
Day one of the conference was laid out at a snappy pace with three to four speakers per hour moderated by the effervescent Alissa Walker. She introduced the first speaker Yves Béhar of fuseproject as “design’s reigning sex symbol.”
Béhar may have a great head of hair but what’s underneath his flamboyant mop is helping change people’s lives for the better. He designed frames for the "See Better to Learn Better" free eyeglasses program. The partnership with the Mexican government and Augen Optics led to Collección Escolar 2010; a collection of customizable corrective eyewear that are specifically designed for students, ages 6-18 years old. The project addresses a need that can be as high as 60-70% in some schools in states like Morelos, Sonora and Chiapas. Also known for designing the laptop for the One Laptop per Child Project. Béhar spoke about how a new business model for design can change the world.
A new business model is Julie Cordua’s key factor as communications director for the über successful (RED) brand. (RED) uses a multiple year agreement in philanthropic corporate partnerships to combat AIDS in Africa. The result is giving consumers the choice to buy brands that support an ongoing seasonal fund – with 100% of their dollars reaching people in African countries with AIDS. Since its launch in 2006, (RED) partners and events have contributed over $160 million to the Global Fund.
Five years ago the topics of Compostmodern speakers were focused on the craft of sustainable design practices. This year there were more insights into designing a sustainable world including the systems that power conventional social and economic models. How are companies doing this in reality?
I started by asking Sanjit Bakshi+Fernandes, a Google employee attending the conference, this question: why do I get to use Google tools (that my non-profit depends on to function) for free? He suggested I look into AdSense program and pointed me to information on their website: stating, “the majority of our revenue comes from advertising…Google AdWords our auction-based advertising program.”
Designing for the greater good can work in tandem with other business ventures as shown in the examples above. Taking the concept of partnering one-step further is OpenIDEO; an open-platform website where anyone can contribute to solving design challenges through a collaborative crowd-sourcing model.
Nathan Waterhouse co-Leader of the platform took to the Compostmodern stage to describe the site as an opportunity to design with people, not just for. Waterhouse thinks that to encourage collaboration you need to try different techniques. He suspects that money does not encourage collaboration. That’s why OpenIDEO has created an online design jam that gives me the opportunity to have an impact with a couple of clicks.
When I looked at openideo.com today the featured challenge is How might we improve maternal health with mobile technologies for low-income countries?. It is listed as collaboration between Oxfam, Nokia & IDEO. And you & me, apparently. Once joining the audience has the opportunity to scan all challenges and contribute in a variety of different ways such as, photos, sketches, business ideas or snippets of code. There is a time frame for inspiration, concepting and evaluation stages. The process is completed with an announcement of the winning ideas and concepts.
With user-friendly design OpenIDEO is including a broader range of people in the design process. Waterhouse described the opportunity for not just designers and domain experts but nurses, teachers, farmers and firemen to add to the process along with sponsors like Unilever and Jamie Oliver. This approach emphasizes that specialists and generalists need to work together by providing a platform for design thinking shared between corporations, non-profits and individuals.
In an interview after his talk, Waterhouse mentioned, “we’re working on plans to enable more people to get involved such as large parts of Africa, to get involved via mobile phones.” He explained that these communities may not necessarily have access to a computer with an internet connection, but a lot of communities have huge mobile penetration.
Inclusivity is what Bruce Mau and wife Bisi Williams’ The Third Teacher project is all about. The world-renowned designer was the last speaker, closing the loop of dynamic presenters for the day. The Third Teacher is a collaborative exploration of learning and teaching through interaction between people and surrounding environment. Their environment is the third teacher. The initiative is described in a book; “The Third Teacher: 79 Ways You Can Use Design to Transform Teaching & Learning.” All 79 ideas are listed online: thethirdteacher.com starting with #1. “Everyone can be a designer.” Ending with an invitation test the first idea; #79. “Add to this list.”
The concept for The Third Teacher was sparked by Mau’s discovery that 99% of the world does not have a formal education. Mau left school early before earning his degree. Although he went on to have a towering multiple gigahertz design career – he knows his experience was unique.
The initiative, a partnership of OWP/P, Cannon Design, VS Furniture with Bruce Mau Design is applying participatory design to a global educational models because “collaboration unleashes a unique intellectual and social energy.” In the tradition of the generous keynote speaker he wants to share a story of optimism with the 4.5 billion children in the world - the story that design equals the power to affect the world. “I want them to be citizens,” explained Mau. “When people have real purpose – they rise to the purpose.”
Eighteen people presented onstage at the Herbst Theatre on Day one of Compostmodern 2011 (January 22). See the full line-up here. Speaker videos will be posted weekly until the entire conference is online.