We spoke with Alessandro Manetti, strategy designer, trend researcher, art director, cultural manager and curator of the 18th edition of Barcelona Design Week 2023. An unique edition that is associated with the 17 Sustainable Development Goals declared by the United Nations:
Alessandro, as we enter the 18th BDW '23 edition, which issues concerned the design world 18 years ago and are still in force and current?
In the last twenty years, the world we live in has undergone a radical transformation. The advent of ubiquitous and pervasive communication through the new generations of connectivity, the internet, and, most importantly, mobile telephony with the emergence of smartphones has forever altered the way we interact with people, products, spaces, and how we perceive the value universe of a brand, a private company, or an institution. Consequently, the approach to design has changed.
Not only has communication technology evolved, but the introduction of new materials, scientific innovations in areas like genetics, biology, and advancements in data processing and management have allowed for a deeper dive into the research phase of a design project. This, in turn, has led to the need to integrate new disciplines from the social and human sciences, such as anthropology, sociology, consumer psychology, and knowledge of new technological domains.
The shift has moved from a focus on markets and the consumer as targets to reach, convince, and entice through design, progressively towards a position of listening, integration in the creative process, and collaboration with the end user, considering their current and future needs, desires, and expectations.
Lastly, we must consider that the issues from twenty years ago in Europe and, more broadly, in the Western world are similar to today's issues in other parts of the world, as we live on a globalized planet with different phases in terms of design culture and the adoption of the design process within the business and industrial sectors. In other words, design is still being used today to create unnecessary demands in markets that are not yet fully mature, such as in China or India, while in Europe, it is increasingly employed in systemic innovation processes and the development of strategies.
What do you think of the design of the future? Does it necessarily involve a collective job? What does a future designed with 'collective intuition' look like?
Now, in my opinion, we are at another turning point: the introduction of various tools related to artificial intelligence into the design processes in all major research, creative thinking, and prototyping phases, not only will bring greater speed and precision in achieving final results but it will also improve the general outcome of a project with increased computational power, in-depth information, and a wider range of choices among different versions and alternatives to address a client's problem or brief.
Design in the 21st century is undeniably collaborative and participatory. Collective insight has already become one of the most intriguing elements of contemporary design processes, especially in generating solutions for complex and systemic issues, like the ones addressed during the activities organized in this edition of Barcelona Design Week.
From your perspective, what does this future look like, and how can it influence the sustainability goals?
We are exactly halfway between the 2015 declaration of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and their hypothetical achievement in 2030. This implies that achieving them in the immediate future seems unrealistic. The collective of designers from Barcelona and the international community, in collaboration with global governance institutions such as the United Nations, can play a crucial role. Not only they can raise awareness and communicate the importance of adopting good practices and SDG implementation policies to various audiences, but they can also provide tangible solutions in various design disciplines: spaces, products, communication systems, designing interactions between technology and users, services, and innovation strategies.
Lastly, could you share with us examples of initiatives or projects that exemplify the positive impact of a 'collective intuition' approach in design and how they have contributed?
A clear example of how collaborative and participatory design, coupled with architecture, can serve as a model for building a sustainable future in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), is the global initiative to promote SDG Goal Number 18, which recognizes design as a pivotal element in shaping the present and future of people and launched through the collaboration between Barcelona Design Week and 48openhouse. Consequently, BDW and the festival has designated the Wikihousing Barcelona by Straddle3, Organic Society as "BUILDING 18" to emphasize the values and significance of a design that focuses on association, community, self-construction, modularity, and cost-effectiveness in housing projects. The project unfolds in three phases. The first phase involves theoretical classes taught by experts in housing, architecture, manufacturing, and management. The second phase consists of practical workshops for the construction process. The final phase encompasses the construction of a housing prototype on a public plot. In order to minimize the environmental and economic impact, the project prioritizes the use of recyclable or reusable materials, such as reclaimed wood, pillars, beams, and metal structures, ensuring a sustainable approach to design and construction. This collaborative and participatory approach not only provides affordable housing but also promotes innovation and environmental responsibility, aligning with the SDGs and showcasing the power of design in shaping a more sustainable and equitable future.