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DSI at BWxD14

Reflection on BWxD14 by DSI Director Jeremy Beaudry

I had the great pleasure to attend for the second time A Better World By Design in Providence, RI, an annual gathering of students, educators, and professionals which is organized by students at Brown University and Rhode Island School of Design. Many kudos go out to the student organizers and volunteers, who have consistently managed one of the most engaging and well-run design conferences I have been to — from the delicious meals and efficient waste management (diligent recycling and composting) to the roster of impressive presenters to the energizing social events. Accompanying me were 2nd year graduate student, Davis Hermann, and post-graduate fellow, Min Yeh, who share some of their reflections on the conference in subsequent posts (part II and part III).

We go to BWxD to meet with other like-minded students and practitioners who share our belief that designers have an important role to play in making meaningful change in the world, whether our own backyards or further afield in more remote locations with a host a partners and stakeholders. The conference presents an amazing opportunity to share the work we do at UArts and connect with potential partners and guests, possible employers for our students, and future DSI graduate students. With so many connections made and stories exchanged, I ended the weekend with an overwhelming sense of having found a real community of people (from within design but also other disciplines) who are passionate about the power of design help create the sustainable, just world we wish to see.

A few highlights for me personally:

>> Marc O’Brien, BWxD veteran and super-connector, kicked off the conference with a series of stories pointing to the power and importance of relationships in creating the foundation for how we do good work — together. Marc also facilitated a couple of really well-run design thinking workshops that demonstrated how smart people with a couple of hours and clear scaffold can generate a great deal of creative approaches to any number of problems.

>> Friday ended with a bang. The last speaker session paired talks by Sarah Williams, Director of the Civic Data Design Lab at MIT, and Michael Ben-Eli, founder of the Sustainability Laboratory. Sarah presented several detailed case studies of projects by the Civic Data Design Lab which demonstrate the use of dynamic data and spatial mapping to discovery deep patterns and insights within complex socio-spatial issues. Michael took us on an ambitious philosophical journey exploring the “cosmic function of design” and the many great challenges we face in the face of catastrophic, irreversible climate change. He argued for design as a force for sustainability which can and should account for interdependency, contain entropy, and enhance and maintain diversity. Paired together, these two talks expressed a wonderful synthesis of both the context of our most pressing challenges as well as the tools we might use to address them. I carried these thoughts with me as we found our way later Friday night to the BWxD BBQ & beer party, where we met lots of new friends and strained to hear about each others’ projects over the very loud and danceable music.

>> I met too many interesting people to recount here, yet the clear highlight for me of the conference was learning about so many designers, initiatives, programs and small- to mid-sized design firms who are really making a place for themselves in this emerging space of social design. Granted, we social designers have much to do to evaluate the impact we’re having, as well as to problematize our work and methods and mature as a field (if it could be called that). But the community is here and it is robust and the opportunities are exciting.

Read reflections by Davis Hermann (2nd Year graduate student) and Min Yeh (post-graduate fellow).

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, October 1st, 2014 at 10:42 am.