DesignMarch 2019: DesignTalks – Highlights

DesignTalks is one of DesignMarch’s signature events, where each year designers and creative influencers fly all the way to Iceland to talk about what they do and what inspires them. The event takes place at Reykjavík’s beautiful Harpa concert hall and is attended by guests from every facet of the Icelandic design industry – from fashion to architecture to typography, and everything in between. This year was no different, and Harpa’s Silfurberg auditorium was filled to the brim with bright-eyed, inspiration-seeking creative thinkers. So many in fact, that this year was the first time the event was completely sold out!

The focus of this year’s DesignTalks was environmentalism and sustainability. Under the tagline “The only way is up”, each talk revolved around a concept of no-waste, re-use, upcycling, and responsible use of resources. One after the other, this year’s speakers opened the audience’s eyes to a new way of viewing an existing problem, and presented an innovative way to approach a solution.

DesignTalks was kicked-off by none other than the Prime Minister of Iceland – Katrín Jakobsdóttir – who is incidentally also a part of Iceland’s ‘Left-Green Movement’.


DesignMarch DesignTalks 2019 Reykjavik

DesignMarch DesignTalks 2019 Reykjavik

DesignMarch DesignTalks 2019 Reykjavik

DesignMarch DesignTalks 2019 Reykjavik

DesignMarch DesignTalks 2019 Reykjavik

DesignMarch DesignTalks 2019 Reykjavik


“There is no Planet B.”


The first speaker of the day was Philip Fimmano who dove directly in to the environmental awakening that is taking place in the world right now. “Sustainability is not a fad,” he stated, adding “We cannot go back anymore”. Emphasising the importance of no longer taking from the earth, he said that people need to work in collaboration with nature, and part of that is figuring out how to fully utilize an extracted resource – “Figuring out how to use all of a thing, animal, tree etc.” People’s “obsession with not wanting to waste anymore” was contributing to innovative environmentally-friendly creations, such as those exhibited in the “Earth Matters” exhibition curated by Philip.


DesignMarch DesignTalks 2019 Reykjavik


“Being ethical is hard, but it’s good to start with the intention.”


Graphic designer Lucienne Roberts talked about graphic design’s ability to raise awareness, and even act as a form of conflict resolution. Raised by an illustrator and a typographer, she grew up being told that “design can make a difference”, as well as being taught to be aware of important societal issues. Lucienne Roberts has worked on campaigns raising awareness for a number of issues, some fairly straightforward such as breast cancer awareness, some quite controversial such as the UN report on the Gaza conflict – and other explorative ones like the exhibition “Can Graphic Design Save Your Life?”

One of her recent projects, involving the infamous Brexit dilemma, is called “Look Both Ways” and with it Lucienne hopes to encite people to relate to others, and look at both sides of an argument.


DesignMarch DesignTalks 2019 Reykjavik


“Where is the benchmark? What are we sustaining?”


Kristian Edwards, senior architect at Snøhetta introduced DesignTalks guests to the company’s various environmentally conscious projects. Working from their mantra of a “continuous state of reinvention”, the diverse group of designers at Snøhetta – what Kristian calls a “giant melting pot of variation that we can all draw from.” – strive to approach each design with an innovative and environmentally conscious mindset. From zero-emission buildings to under-water restaurants, Snøhetta take one ambitious project after the other, resulting in, for example, in one case revitalizing a clear-water eco-system and in another reducing a holiday resort’s energy use by 85%.


DesignMarch DesignTalks 2019 Reykjavik


“It is important to understand the transformation of a thing from its’ original state.”


Local designer Theódóra spoke of the importance of consumer awareness, and how finding feldspar rocks in the Cornwall Lake District inspired her to explore how objects tell a story. This resulted in a number of projects that all explore the process of an object transforming from untouched resource to finished product. Theódóra emphasised the importance of being a responsible consumer, and being inherently aware of the origin and production process of an item when considering a purchase. This is something we all need to think about more!


DesignMarch DesignTalks 2019 Reykjavik


“What can space teach us about Earth?”


Michael Morris’ talk was unlike the others, in that its’ subject revolved around high-level technology, of which most of us have a limited understanding. Titled “From My House To Mars’ House,” Michael’s talk took us on a tour of his various projects at SEArch+ where, in collaboration with NASA, they design mind-boggling architectural designs created for the purpose of living on Mars; from a 3-D printed ice-house, to a regolith concrete structure that includes a vertical garden. Michael’s design process isn’t like any other architect’s process as he has to take into consideration factor like extreme temperatures, radiation, lack of atmosphere and potentially fatal poisonous surface material.

When asked if the idea of leaving Earth implies giving up on it, he replied that it is the opposite. Crediting the infamous “Blue marble” picture from space with starting the environmental movement, he said that lessons learned from exploring conditions on other planets could help us understand our own planet better, and perhaps teach us to take better care of it.


DesignMarch DesignTalks 2019 Reykjavik


“It was about democracy, and we’re losing it.”


It’s safe to say that Katherine Hamnet’s talk was one of the most highly anticipated in the DesignTalks line-up. Going through her various work over the years, Katherine spoke of the importance of using your voice and your power as a voter as well as a consumer to incite change.

Throughout the years, she has used her platform of design to raise awareness about a vast number of issues, and believes that “we need to change the way we protest,” and that it is important that people become more aware of/involved in politics because “the general public is often better informed than actual legislators,” and therefore capable of making a tremendous change. She talked about how voting is being made increasingly difficult, especially for minority groups, and suggested “If you can confirm bank transfers with voice recognition over the phone, why not vote?”

Katherine said her signature graphic T-shirts are a way to “seed ideas into a brain,” much like social media does nowadays, adding that “we were doing it first.” Issues vocalized by Katherine through this medium include world peace, environmentalism and the refugee crisis. She has also weighed in on world politics, stating that England right now is “complete chaos with no leaders”, that she’s optimistic about politics in America and “congresswomen changing the system.” When asked if she would ever consider a career in politics she said she wouldn’t “because I think it’s obsolete,” adding that “I made a T-shirt that says ‘Leaders suck’ so I can’t…”.


DesignMarch DesignTalks 2019 Reykjavik


“Something beautiful happens when you see yourself as a channel to let something out.”


Brynjar Sigurðarson at Studio Brynjar & Veronika talked about his work that centers greatly around collaborations and combining different design disciplines. In his years working as a designer he has explored a range of methods, and let the creative process lead the way, instead of the other way around. This has resulted in a number of very different and wonderfully odd projects, like his circle flute that can be played by four flautists at the same, and requires the listener to stand in the center and be surrounded by the sound.


DesignMarch DesignTalks 2019 Reykjavik


“Provide help for people to become more connected.”


Hróflur Karl Cela and Marcos Zotes of Basalt Architects talked DesignTalks guests through their local projects, where nature is a constant source of inspiration. For each new project they receive, they include thorough consideration of the surrounding landscape and local resources in their design process. For their recent project, Vök Baths at Iceland’s Urriðavatn lake, local building materials were used, and the resort only serves locally sourced food and locally brewed beer. “The building is really made of the place” said Hróflur, adding that the goal is that everything sold and used there should be local material or sourced from local material.


DesignMarch DesignTalks 2019 Reykjavik


“We should be both excite,  but also terrified of this future.”


Space Popular explores the different dimensions of virtual reality. Art directors Lara Lesmes and Fredrik Hellberg discussed the wide variety of work they’ve done all over the world, which includes urban design, furniture design, system design and interactive virtual reality exhibitions. Space popular seeks to push the boundaries between virtual and physical reality by combining them and also asking themselves what the value is of each one individually. “Designing a wholesome experience where all aspects are considered” they believe that architecture is a “portal to new realities” and that what they strive to do is to “bridge the different realities that we live in today”. Despite their enthusiasm over virtual reality they do stress that “calling it virtual reality is dangerous”, and that people should be careful when inviting new technology into their daily lives, adding that “social media could break humanity at its’ core”.


DesignMarch DesignTalks 2019 ReykjavikAll photos by Eyþór Árnason and Lilja Jónsdóttir


“We are an open circle. We can decide our own evolution.”


The last talk of the day was by far the most bizzarre, but also the most interesting and entertaining. Moon Ribas started her talk by nonchalantly stating “I identify myself as a cyborg”. She grew up being “anti-technology”, but after becoming a dancer, she became fascinated by the “many things that move that we don’t perceive,” and started to look for ways to experience imperceptible movement. Exploring the concept of Transspeciesshe, she developed her creations under Cyborg Art, which include a set of earrings that sense surrounding movement, and a pair of sensors implanted in her feet that are connected to earthquake sensors. With her “seismic sense” she feels vibration in her body whenever an earthquake occurs, and she affectionately refers to this extra beat in her body as her “Earth beat”.

Moon Ribas’ cyborg creations are not mere gadgets, as they are a part of her identity. “I don’t feel a hundred percent human,” she said, adding that “All species have the same value” and that it is “subjective whether to improve or not”. In her circle of acquaintances, who are fellow cyborg-activists, there are innovations such as tooth implant communication devices, a bioluminescent tooth, magnetic-field sensing hair, and an implant that detects atmospheric pressure and can predict weather.

In closing, she spoke of a “unity between humans and technology making us feel closer to nature,” and explained that she feels closer to nature “because I feel that the earth is moving,” adding that people should “modify ourselves instead of nature”. She then concluded the day’s schedule by playing “all the earthquakes in Iceland the past 50 years” on a single drum, a very interesting way to close this year’s DesignTalks!


Setting the Course for the Future

As a whole, this group of speakers was one of the most diverse there have been so far. It’s clear that Iceland is becoming more and more relevant in the design field with each passing year, and it is highly likely that events like DesignMarch help a great deal with putting Icelandic design on the map.

It was slightly disappointing however that when lunch was served, and guest had their choice of two very delicious soups, they were served in disposable paper cups with plastic spoons. Probably not the most environmentally-friendly way to serve lunch… Despite that fact, the day was one of great inspiration, hope for change and the possibility of a brighter future where we respect our surroundings, become more responsible consumers and active participants in setting the course for the next generation. We, as always, look forward to next year’s DesignTalks and the other DesignMarch events!

What was your favourite DesignTalks talk or your favourite exhibition at DesignMarch this year? Let us know in the comments!

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