General Session
Monday, September 20, 2021
12:00 PM - 3:00 PM (EDT)

Hosted by Roman Mars, our general sessions feature a diverse lineup of designers, artists, entrepreneurs and more.

Today's speakers:
Rick Griffith
Carissa Carter + Scott Doorley
Arturo Escobar
Ruki Neuhold-Ravikumar
Audrey Bennett + Ron Eglash
Cameron Tonkinwise

Making with Mischief
Carissa Carter + Scott Doorley
As designers, we make things with materials. Traditionally, these materials have included metal, wood, plastic, pixels, storyboards, spaces, and beyond. We make products, experiences, systems, places, programs, movements, and companies. We’re physical and digital. Boutique and mass-produced. Design, today, is a broad discipline. And the materials of making are more complex, interconnected, and unpredictable than ever.
Today’s materials of design include tricky technologies. They are algorithms and blockchains, synthesized organisms and DNA sequences, massive data sets and social networks. These materials are opaque and unruly. Most of us don’t look at an app and realize what algorithms make it work. Most of us can’t tell that the ear of corn on the left has a few bonus genes spliced in from the one on the right. We can’t pick up a blockchain and figure out how to fit it into a social network. Today’s materials make it extremely difficult to grasp how the products, experiences, and systems around us work—or even recognize whether they’re working at all. We’re in an era with a new class of technological media for makers.
We call these mischievous materials.

Designing from Interdependence: What 'Ontological Design' brings to Design
Arturo Escobar
Modern design has developed within a particular “ontology,” or understanding of reality, characterized as anthropocentric, liberal, secular, and rationalistic; this ontology is based on the premise of the separation between humans and nature, mind and body, reason and emotion, etc., and serves as the conceptual infrastructure for capitalism and colonialism. The contemporary social and ecological crisis has made evident the deeply problematic and destructive character of this ontology and of the worlds and social systems it has produced. An ontological perspective on design sheds new light on design’s reliance on such ontology and its embeddedness in socially unjust and ecologically destructive practices linked to capitalism and globalization. The resulting “ontological design” framework proposes ways for reorienting design towards practices that contribute to the healing of the web of interdependences that constitute Life; it also argues for developing designing practices that enable new ways of dwelling on the Earth. The talk will illustrate the argument with some examples from the areas of agriculture, housing, and contemporary digital technology.

Ruki Neuhold-Ravikumar
How permeable is the history we know to new influences?
The world is reckoning with how the hierarchies of the past have negotiated what ‘makes’ history; knowledge producers are questioning the possibilities for radically different knowledge production and knowledge diffusers are reprioritizing what stories are told and shared. Is the skin of humanity that we call history ready to stretch, absorb, heal and react?

Future Heritage: Evolutionary Design Trajectories to Generative Justice
Audrey Bennett + Ron Eglash
The phrase “future heritage” is a paradox, empowering movements from AfroFuturism to Speculative Design. Limiting our vision to fixed scenarios is never wise; we cannot know what designs are best for the future. However, we can create design trajectories, paths through the “space of possibilities” that work on principles that embed justice and sustainability into practices and products. Nature’s evolution has many examples of design trajectories: once birds developed feathers and hollow bones, everything from condors to hummingbirds became possible. Our research has focused on developing design trajectories inspired by Indigenous cultures. The fractal structure of Africa’s traditional architecture, biocomplexity in Mexico’s agroecology, restorative justice in Native American traditions, and other examples prove the possibility of a generative economy, one in which value is not extracted but rather circulated in unalienated forms. In this talk, we will describe our experiments in translating these generative traditions into design principles that can be applied to contemporary contexts, ones that would provide the kinds of futures we would like our heritage to become.

No, and: The Crucial Power of Design to Direct Transitions
Cameron Tonkinwise
Cameron gives an account of how transition designing aims to be in the right place to influence how changing systems unfold. But to use this power designers need to work collectively to not just keep on saying ‘yes and.’

This session will be recorded and available exclusively to attendees post-event.