DesignTalks are a signature event of DesignMarch in Reykjavík, Iceland. It’s a day of talks by leading designers discussing topics related to any and all types of design and its place in the world. This year’s DesignTalks were held this past Thursday, March 10th, and the topic was innovation and leadership by design and how it can aid in a more sustainable future and our moderators were designer Hlín Helga Guðlaugsdóttir and innovation veteran Marco Steinberg.
Photo by Sebastian Ziegler
The day started bright and early and the event was scheduled for 9 o’clock sharp. I was one of the first guests to arrive at a fairly quiet and tranquil Harpa, a place usually crawling with life as it is one of Reykjavík’s tourist must-see places, and I made my way up to the second floor and got a DesignTalks 2016 stamp for admission on the back of my hand. I could see right away that the few people who had arrived before me had come early for the exact same reason as I had – to beat the crowd to the free coffee.
Photo by Lorena Silvera
After a swarm of enthusiastic design-loving guests had arrived and been sufficiantly caffienated we all made our way into Harpa’s Silfurberg hall and briefly traipsed around the room in a polite confusion while finding a place to sit.
The first speaker of the day was mayor of Reykjavík, Dagur B. Eggertsson, who started by declaring his personal excitement for DesignMarch, calling it “the offspring of a [financial] crisis”. He credited designers, specifically the Iceland Design Centre, for being especially resourceful and innovative and for encouraging Iceland to “design itself out of crisis”.
DesignMarch and the Design Centre have successfully managed to open the mind of Iceland’s otherwise fairly set-in-its-ways government to the point where politicians like Dagur are able to rethink where they look for solutions to problems.
“How will we handle increased tourism? Ask the designers,” he suggests.
Maria Guidice talked about “Leadership by design,” the “rise of the DEO (design executive officer)” and how she “accidentally became a graphic designer” after spending most of her childhood and adolesence striving to become a famous painter.
As a teenager she had already started taking comissions as what she calls a “dog portrait painter” as well as earning money painting jean jackets.
In 1997 she started her company Hot Studio which grew from a single employee to a hundred over a period of 16 years. She then took a big risk and accepted an offer from Facebook to buy it and described the acquisition process as a “Thelma and Louise moment” whereas she had no guarantees of its success.
She now works for Autodesk as well as spending her time sharing her wisdom of the makings of a good DEO at events like DesignTalks or TEDx and even has a book published on the subject, “Rise of the DEO: Leadership by design”, with co-author Christopher Ireland.
A DEO is a hybrid of a business leader and creative thinker, someone who isn’t afraid of taking risks and disrupting the status quo, “both analytical by nature yet trusts his creativity” and has deep empathy.
After making everyone stand up and introduce themselves to a stranger and then hugging them for 10 seconds (I was so social that I introduced myself to two people, causing a delightfully awkward group hug) she left us with these empowering words, “Be commited to change.”
Einar Gunnar Guðmundsson is a corporate entrepreneur and works for Arion Bank, a DesignTalks sponsor. He spoke of how democratisation and transparency in companies are growing megatrends in today’s business and how consumers are increasingly interested in endorsing sustainability and environmentalism.
He emphasised the importance of bringing design more and more into the management of businesses as “ideology and practicality are equally important”.
“I never self-identify as a designer. It makes it to easy to be marginalized,” said Tom Loosemore, a former polititian who is currently Director of Digital Services at the Co-Operative Group.
Using his background in politics, Tom “digitised a paper-based government” when he lead the creation of the website GOV.UK that essentially makes complicated bureaucratic processes easily available and user-friendly.
Without classifying himself as a designer he certainly has the creative thinking and problem solving abilities as one, taking cutting-edge ideas and making them a reality by “creating space for great teams to do great work”.
Maria Lisogorskaya is an architect and co-founder of Assemble, a collective that recently received the Turner prize for urban regeneration.
Their projects include, The Cineroleum, an empty petrol station made into an outside movie theater, Yardhouse, a creative workspace that provides a sociable and collaborative workspace, and Blackhorse Workshop, a workspace with access to technical expertise and “a library for tools”.
Assemble seeks to actively involve the public as both participants and collaborators in their projects that often revolve around revitalising areas that have been otherwise forgotten or neglected, “using a shortage of resources as an advantage” and an oppurtunity to find creative solutions.
Maria thinks collaboration between government and designers is important to find solutions to many of today’s problems and says that it is vital to “not separate polititians and artists, we’re just people trying to make things better.”
Jonathan Barnbrook is probably best known for his work with David Bowie, having designed many of his album covers – including the most recent Black Star album cover that features a single black star along with Bowie’s name in symbols developed especially for the project.
Jonathan has worked on a number of progressive projects over the years, such as spoof advertising for Adbusters, logo design for Occupy London and Banksy’s bizarre Dismaland, but one of his greatest passions is typeface design.
He spoke about much design today being too industry focused, comparing modern corporations to a “new form of fascism” and emphasising that working with them “is not what design should be doing.”
Though most of Jonathan’s talk was lighthearted and completely hilarious he was very clear about his views on what designers shouldn’t be advocating and showed us a billboard he once designed with Tibor Kalman’s famous quote “Stay away from corporations that want you to lie for them.”
Katrín Ólína Pétursdóttir gave a presentation about her new collection called Primitiva, a series of talismans that are meant to bridge the gap between one’s body and inner cosmos.
She says people are “planets in the universe of life” who are on an epic journey to find themselves and “understanding the ever evolving self”. The talismans are “objects of awereness of our physical world” meant to aid in this search and each one serves a specific purpose. There are forty pieces in the collection and they are inspired by archetypal themes, developed with 3D printing technology and cast in bronze by Finnish jewelery manufacturer Kalevala Koru.
Studio Swine gave one of the most fascinating talks of the day, “Learning from whalers and astronauts,” going over some of their projects where they design various products using materials that range from unexpected to utterly bizarre.
Co-founded by architect Azusa Murakami and artist Alexander Groves, Studio Swine travels the world examining the role of design in the modern day through amazing projects, including lights made from beer bottles, a space-inspired art installation with swarowski crystals and sunglasses made with human hair.
Their project “Sea Chair” received widespread recognition and a short film about it was awarded at the Cannes Film Festival in 2014.
“Sea Chair” is a stool made from discarded plastic that the designers fished out of the ocean and is meant to raise awareness about the damage our consumption of disposable plastic does to our environment. They feel the answer to the problem is a culture change on land or as Alexander said, “if the house is flooding the first thing you do is turn off the tap.”
Dr. Thorvaldur Ingvarsson, EVP of Research and Development at Össur, gave a presentation of the company’s work with prosthetic limbs with help from Guðmundur Ólafsson, a below-the-knee amputee.
Össur’s new brain-controlled bionic limbs are revolutionary and have tremendous potential to improve an amputee’s quality of life as clearly demonstrated when two other types of prosthetic legs were compared to it.
The technology is based on making a connection between the brain and the prosthetic instead of the usual practice of connecting a devise to a nerve which involves complicated surgery.
The new technology requires a minimal 25 minute procedure where censors are placed in the patients knee that then pick up the impulse from a nerve before the muscle contracts.
Guðmundur says that this technology has changed his life completely, improving his stamina and even decreasing his phantom leg pain as it “fools the brain” into thinking that the amputated leg is still in place.
Lauren Bowker blurs the lines between science and fashion with her label “TheUnseen” that produces wearable technology that started with her material exploration and a compound that absorbs air pollution and causes materials to change colour depending on CO2 levels in the atmosphere.
Her creations, including a headdress that is can monitor a certain level of brain activity, have received much attention from both the fashion industry and the medical field and her clients range from Mars Rover scientists to Will.i.am.
Lauren wants her pieces to be multifunctional, not just aestheticly pleasing, and says that it’s “not about a quick win like the fashion industry” but objects that can be passed down through generations.
DesignTalks moderator Marco Steinberg – photo by Sebastian Ziegler
Marco Steinberg – Photo by Sebastian Ziegler
Photo by Grímur Kolbeinsson
DesignTalks moderator Hlín Helga Guðlaugsdóttir – photo by Sebastian Ziegler
Hlín Helga Guðlaugsdóttir – Photo by Sebastian Ziegler
The whole day was inspiring, the talks covered such a wide range of the subject and in between them we got a glimpse of some very fascinating design, like a mesmerizing short film by Alice Dunseath and a preview of designer and entrepreneur Brynja Þóra Guðnadóttir’s seaweed gels that can be used to grow plants at home.
As DesignMarch 2016 draws to a close we look back over all the things we’ve experienced in the past five days feeling cheerfully sentimental while eagerly looking forward to the next one, set for March 23rd-26th 2017, be sure to save the date!
Check out more coverage of DesignMarch from Wednesday, Thursday & Friday plus an amazing Fashion Showroom.
Tags: design, DesignMarch 2016, DesignTalks, Innovation
Hugrún is an art and design enthusiast from Iceland, with a deep appreciation for aesthetics that deviate from the conventional.
Being born and raised in the Reykjavík region, she draws inspiration from the city’s quirky small-town culture, and the diversity and individuality of its inhabitants.
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