Last week, I attended the Design and Emotion Conference for the first time. This conference which is organized by the Netherlands-based Design and Emotion Society is held biannually and is usually in Europe but this year was brought to Latin America in recognition of the important innovative work being done here. I was intrigued because it was my first design conference and the first time in Colombia.
From the very beginning, I met several very interesting and friendly designers and researchers and throughout the conference I kept meeting amazing and inspiring people and hearing about great ideas. I will not be able to do justice to the material I saw there so I will limit myself to brief descriptions of a few of the keynote speeches (which blew my mind!) and a few highlights from the other presenters.
Firstly, I was very impressed by the Universidad los Andes which was hosting the conference and is located right under the majestic Monserratte look-out in Bogota. The many organizers and volunteers were very helpful throughout the conference and made sure everything ran smoothly. The theme of this year’s conference was Colors of Care, which is both expressive of the importance of diversity and employing design for the common good.
The opening keynote was by Cynthia E. Smith who is the Curator for Socially Responsible Design at the Smithsonian National Design Museum in New York. She talked about her selection process and her books and exhibits “Design for the Other 90%” and “Design with the Other 90%“. Her talk was intriguing and challenging to the traditional notion of design which benefitted only an elite. After the talk a question from the audience pushed the definition of “design” further by asking whether her next exhibit would be called “Design by the Other 90%”. This dialogue made me think of how much inspiration we as designers situated in the developed world can get from the Other 90%.
I was the first speaker after the keynote and presented a paper I have written with Melanie Baljko, entitled “Subversive Interaction Design”. In my presentation, I proposed the idea that perhaps, we can combine the critical and reflective power of formal design methodologies, such as Participatory Design and Value-Sensitive Design, with the expressive power of emerging technologies and the democratizing and community building promises of the Maker Movement to make design more accessible and impactful. I provoked the audience by asking “whether by designing and introducing artifacts that question and ‘subvert’ existing power hierarchies and dynamics in society, can we start a ‘hand-made revolution'”? I love presenting at the beginning of the conference because then you will get to meet more people who would want to know more about your topic and provide feedback and comments.
The conference was filled with thought-provoking presentations. In one project by Steven Fokkinga, the potential of negative emotions to bring about positive outcomes was examined through a running game in which the runner was pursued by a virtual predator. Another project by Alex Lobos examined the notion of timelessness in products and how this can be designed into them to make them more sustainable.
I also saw a great presentation by a team of designers lead by Jose Augusto Ocampo who have redesigned Medellin’s cutting-edge Parque Explora‘s interactive space to include an opportunity for visitors to also become performers. Other projects examined ways to use design to bring about behaviour change with respect to healthy eating habits and saving money.
I also had a poster at the conference that presented our HugBug project developed with Natalie Comeau. The interface consists of a large hat augmented with lights and I was lucky to have many people wanting to try it out!
The next two keynote presentations were mind-blowing. First, the world famous Colombian designer Alberto Mantilla who works in New York talked about his inspiration. Initially, he talked about his biophillia (although he didn’t use this term explicitely) or love of nature which had inspired his design with John Deere car fronts that have anthropomorphic features. The two next designs, Mateo’s Crib and Camila’s Hug, were extremely heart warming as he had designed them for his son and daughter. These works which are his most personal have also become his most well-known. His message was to design with heart and love.
I enjoyed his talk immensely and asked him, “how can we bring more love into design?”. To which he responded, “I wish I could love all my clients like my children. That is not possible but I still have good friendships with them and that is what really motivates me to come up with good ideas.” This point is very succinct and in tune with how I feel about my collaborations. I have been feeling a lot of motivation in initiating, collaborating, writing and presenting research projects because I love the people I work with. They are not only my colleagues but also my friends, people with whom I travel, I laugh and, most, importantly, I dream!
The next keynote talk was by the brilliant Joachim Sauter of the legendary ART + COM. The work of this design company is not only original and ingenious but also pushes the boundaries of art and design. They have been true pioneers. Samples of their work include: The Mobility Project, BMW’s Kinetic Sculpture and Symphonie Kinetic: Poetry of Motion. See a video of the latter here. After talking about their processes and great ideas, such as “don’t motivate, inspire!”, he went on to say that he really enjoys teaching and shared the work of one of his most (in)famous students, Julius von Bismark, who has designed an Image Furgurator that can flash images onto pictures that are being taken of any object. He has used this device for political and cultural activism in China and Germany. See this video for more information.
I loved that Joachim Sauter included in his presentation this subversive design and balanced his work that is commissioned by large companies with this thought provoking direction. When asked about how he gets inspired, he said, “I will share a secret, I go for a kayak ride around the lake and get into a flow state and then everything works out. The key is to somehow to get into the flow state.” (I am sure he doesn’t mind me sharing this as it was a public talk!)
The final keynote was by Professor Rodolfo Llinás a promient Colombian neurologist who is the Chairman of the Department of Physiology and Neuroscience at the NYU School of Medicine. He has published 10 books and 500 scientific papers! His talk was entertaining and provocative. His contention was that the “emotion is in the brain”. He used many examples to describe how emotion and thinking are linked and how they reside in the brain. While very interesting and informative, I can’t agree with this view as embodiment theory research has shown the brain-body relationship is more than a feedback loop and our physical presence in the world affects our cognitive processes, thinking and emotion. Additionally and even more radically, we are grasping a better understanding of how socially, historically and cultural constructed our emotions and thoughts are. Despite his traditional cognitivist position, Professor Rodolfo Llinás was very knowledgeable and his talk was enjoyable and charming. I particularly liked one of his ideas that “looking is a subtle way of touching”.
After much thinking, analyzing and socializing at the conference, it was time for a celebration and the gala dinner which was held at the famous Andres Carne de Res, was perfect for that. We danced until closing and I was patiently taught several Spanish dances (Salsa, Merengue, Bachata, …) but unfortunately don’t remember the moves! It was a perfect way to end a great conference.