Recap written by Hiromi Matsubara; photos by Hiroaki Yamane. Both are from greenz.jp.
On Friday March 12th, 2010, the first Designers Accord Town Hall meeting in Asia was held in Tokyo, Japan. Hosted by The 4th International Conference of Design for Sustainability and greenz.jp, there were five speakers and 80 guests representing educators, business leaders, and students that came together to participate in the sustainability dialogue.
The Design Hub was an ideal venue for the Town Hall where its purpose is to connect and foster Japanese design amongst the local design community. Yoshihiro (Yosh) Kanematsu, creative director at greenz.jp, kicked off the event with a hearty welcome video from Designer Accord's Valerie Casey.
He then introduced the evening's theme "Design x Sustainability x Open Source," and explained how the four Japanese speakers are pioneers in adapting to the open source movement and implementing their creativity in actual projects.
Collaboration and Open Source is the fundamental mindset behind Designers Accord. According to Yosh, when we talk about sustainability, the same mindset should be applied. We are entering an era of "unsustainability" and a point of no return, when sooner or later we would all have to think about how we are going to sustain our own lives and the planet we live in. Designers need to stop competing in sustainability but instead share and collaborate to empower creativity, drive innovation, and as a result accelerate the adoption of sustainable design. All of which is relevant to improve the quality of our lives and the planet.
The second presenter was Kazutoshi Tsuda, is in the organization committee for the International Conference of Design for Sustainability, and also a researcher at Center for Sustainability Design at Osaka University. Tsuda shared his insights about how the sustainable design movement gained momentum in Japan. He started with re-emphasizing the definition of sustainable development from Our Common Future (1987).
"Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."
"How has this concept changed?" Tsuda asked.
As early as Victor Papanek's, "everyone is a designer" mindset, being a designer is not just about designing graphics, products or websites. Designers have to look at society holistically, considering the environmental and the social ecological impacts, then re-evaluate the entire design process to fully integrate these components. An eco-product itself is good but often it is not good enough to create real social change or social innovation.
He concluded his speech by revisiting the definition of sustainable development, clarifying that it's envisioning the future we want, assessing the needs to achieve that vision, and creating a community between consumers and producers to share resources and learn from each other.
Design is a noun, verb, product, and also a storytelling process. Our third speaker, NOSIGNER applied a new concept to design. In 2008, he came up with the idea of open source products and designed a communication platform to share ideas and recipes for designing a better, more sustainable product. NOSIGNER believes that a designer's role is to create new things that improve society, and therefore the work should be exciting. He used the metaphor of comparing sneakers to WARAJI (sandals made from straw rope that in the past were the standard footwear of the common people in Japan).
The former being a commodity, or in NOSIGNER'S terms, a "closed source product" that is manufactured, packaged, and distributed in the most efficient, productive forms. The latter is a work of craftsmanship, which requires passion and shared knowledge to value the cultural aesthetic. Here producers are also consumers and anybody can easily make a WARAJI with a little support. Thus WARAJI is a good example of an open source product, which extends beyond its intentions and functions enabling communication between designers and users to continue telling the story.
The last speaker, Hiroya Tanaka from Open (Re) Source Furniture shared his passion for Fab Lab. Fab Lab began as an outreach project from MIT's Center for Bits and Atoms (CBA) researching digital fabrication. They spread from Boston to rural India, South Africa, and Norway, creating a hub for local residents to share ideas and find solutions to meet their local needs. As a result, activities in Fab Lab became diverse, ranging from technical training, small-scale high-tech business incubation, and even DIY or DIO (do it ourselves) workshops. Unfortunately, Fab Lab Japan does not exist yet, but Tanaka plans to visit MIT to learn about establishing the program in Japan.
Fab Lab's source is digital, making resources unlimited and freely accessible. Tanaka believes that the beauty and creativity of design can sometimes be nurtured by having limitations- so he named his project Open (Re) Source Furniture, instead of Open Source Furniture. His philosophy is that optimization of the design process is likely to go digital because it's scalable, and efficient. No matter how digitally advanced we become, good design should be an attitude that combines technology, science, human intellect, societal need, and willpower to produce things that are missing in society. Simply put, we should never forget the basics of making meaningful, useful stuff and sometimes should go back to using our hands to appreciate that notion.
Chiaki Hayashi, Asia Projects Coordinator at Creative Commons Japan, kicked off the second half of the event. She provided her insight on the previous discussions about design, open source and sustainability. In Hayashi's view, an ordinary person maintains a healthy balance between two behaviors: doing things for money (for a living) and doing things for someone else (for a good cause). In the latter case, when combined with open source design, it will rapidly accelerate social innovation.
Also, Hayashi strongly believes that the Japanese society and culture has become materialized, unsustainable, and has deteriorated, which is why Japanese embrace sustainability so much. Perhaps we are unconsciously and inevitably made to positively, and proactively re-think our value, such as what we have and don't have. So people have started to think alternatively by re-innovating, recycling, reproducing, and recreating with what we have already. This meets the needs of the present and also the future and is perhaps a more suitable and modern definition of sustainable development in today's Japanese society.
Hayashi noted that in the new paradigm information is freely available referring to the unique example of Harvard or MIT sharing their lecture materials online. They are accessible virtually from all over the world but students still pay the high tuition to have the physical interaction with the educators and other talents. People expect information to be free and if they are not, we have to be careful in how we set the pricing and what we can offer in exchange.
The discussion was bright with questions from Twitter (#DATokyo) and the audience.
"What are the merits of being open source? How can open source be profitable?"
NOSIGNER responded, noting that two minds co-exist in designers. One is that they hate to be copied. Other is that they love to be copied. As Frank Chimero said, "Good design is all about making other designers feel like idiots because that idea wasn't theirs." People copy only if the design is good. Even though his/her product is copied, the story, inspiration and philosophy behind the design process only lies within the mind of the original designer. So open source is actually about expanding your own capability by plugging in new forms of shared platforms and ultimately adding a value to yourself. Then Tsuda would add that Source is free but resource is not free and the balance of the two dimensions determines the designer's market/economic value.
The prevailing theme in the Tokyo Town Hall was that "the fuse is lit." In the present time of the economic downturn, environmental destruction and spiritual crisis, designers must envision the future we want, share sources/resources and act responsibly to co-create better solutions to solve bigger problems. The potential of DIY/DIO/personal fabrication is that it can create a totally new marketplace and new benefit for both developed and developing countries. Open source will encourage localization of design and can be replicated to similar parts of the world with similar needs. Even if content becomes open source, craftsmanship should always be valued, preserved, and delivered to the present as well as nurtured for the next generation.
As Erik Adigard said, "At a meta level, design connects the dots between mere survival and humanism." Everyone who strives for a better, sustainable and more peaceful world is a designer. Designers are people who can create happy moments in life. What can be more exciting and challenging than that?