Friday, March 13, 2015

Design for Social Innovation - Ezio Manzini's Lecture in Baltimore

Ezio Manzini, self deprecating, modest and in a subtle way funny, delivered a lecture of hope with a heavy Italian lilt in front of a sizable crowd of mostly MICA students a scattering of architects and former MICA President Fred Lazarus and his wife.

Manzini, renowned design strategist, author and expert on sustainable design (lecture announcement) was in town on the occasion of a tour for his new book titled Design, When Everybody Designs: An Introduction to Design for Social Innovation,” (MIT Press, 2015).
He is a professor and Chair at the Design for Social Innovation at the University of the Arts, London. He also is a Honorary Professor at the Politecnico di Milano (Italy), and Guest Professor at Tongji University - Shanghai and Jiangnan University - Wuxi (China).
Manzini while walking the Brown lecture hall
during the discussion

Manzini explained his philosophy with a slide of text snippets that started out at the bottom left with "wars of fear" and ended at the top right with  a "sustainable society". Along the way designers can act as activists, experts and collaborators. To him this trajectory is not one of "reduction" but one of "prosperity" where increasing complexity is matched by an ever increasing interest in design (hence the title of his book). 
Manzini's central slide shows the trajectory of society with arrows

"We have to learn to navigate in increasing complexity". he says and "Complexity is good because it means more opportunity". 
He observes that "Bottom up initiatives (of design) are oriented on problem solving not ideology" "they produce not only ideas but prototypes"
Manzini's concept of [social] design is highly practical. He is convinced that with more people, more ideas and a tendency of systems to become more distributed than central, communities can enact change from the bottom up. 
"Networks change the concept of economy of scale"  vertical systems are fragile, horizontal systems are resilience." Socially distributed systems need collaboration and cooperation".
He observed that systems theory teaches us that complex systems don't change wholesale but through  local disruptions that then fan out. He encourages designers to start with small problems to make a difference. He calls this "cosmopolitan localism". He admonished designers that often " the narratives don't need to be invented by us but be read and discovered because the narrative is already there".  He described as a challenge that while we need diversity, we need to be capable to live together in that diversity. This provoked someone in the audience to ask him about how to build "trust". 

Manzini gave a rambling answer. In my mind his entire lecture was the answer: The transformation of fear into hope and actionable solutions through design. Where there is less fear there is automatically more trust.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

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