Copenhagen-based design and research lab Space10 have set their sights on Mexico City as the hub for an onsite, two-week pop-up, "Beyond Human-Centered Design," beginning on March 26th and lasting through April 9th. The pop-up, held at exhibition space LOOT, will combine talks, interactive experiences and events that focus on the climate crisis and how design philosophies can evolve to consider needs of both people and the planet.
In conjunction with the pop-up, Space10 also hosted five Mexico-based designers over the month of March in Mexico City for a residency that explored the possibilities of abundant yet overlooked natural materials in local bioregions. The research and results of this residency will be shared by the designers in a final presentation on April 7th.
The program, which you can also tune into online, includes talks with leaders like Ma-tt-er Founder Seetal Solanki, delaO Studio Founder Jose de la O, multidisciplinary designer Fernando Laposse, designer and researcher Edwina Portocarrero, frog Executive Design Director Kara Pecknold, and more. In addition to panels, there will also be exhibitions to explore, workshops on material exploration and new design methodologies, and even a Hackathon on April 2 and 3 on future applications of technology within the home.
To learn more about this exciting event and all that led up to it, we chatted with Space10 co-founder Simon Caspersen to learn more about "Beyond Human-Centered Design," the intent behind this event, and what participants both on and off location can expect to get out of the program.
Core77: What is beyond Human-Centered Design? What was the motivation behind a theme like this, and why does the conversation feel important to have right now?
Caspersen: Yes, what lies beyond Human-Centered Design? That is the question that we are deeply interested in exploring at SPACE10 and our whole motivation for our design festival in Mexico City. Human-Centered Design has been such an important paradigm for humanity and has for good reasons become the dominant school of thought in every major design school around the world.
However, only two centuries have passed since the onset of the industrial revolution—a blink of an eye in the span of geological history—and already, we are in the middle of an accelerating climate crisis, we are approaching the biggest ecological collapse in 65 million years and the UN has declared it Code Red For Humanity. We are in the most important decade in human history and since we have undeliberately designed ourselves into this mess, so the big question is: How do we design our way out of it?
Design has always been about progress, so together with Mexican designers, technologists, politicians, chefs, artists, architects, academics, entrepreneurs and activists, we will explore what could actually be a better way forward. One thing is certain, we have for decades been taught to place individual needs in the center of design, but clearly, design that is good only for a group of individuals, without considering the well-being of our planet and society as a whole, has gotten us into trouble. Luckily, designers are rising to the challenge and rethinking the role they can play in the world.
We don't sit with all the answers at SPACE10 but most often good design starts with asking the right questions.
At SPACE10, we believe we need to change the definition of what constitutes good design. We have grown disillusioned with a design method that puts people first, and has, as a result, overstretched the resources of our planet many times. We know that design that is not good for our planet is ultimately not good for people, so we need to look beyond the narrow horizon of human-centered design, and start designing in a way that meets the needs of the many without going beyond the limits of our planet. That is not going to be easy and is the biggest creative challenge we face.
Through the lens of design, we believe it's possible to address complex challenges, and by bringing people together through conversation and exchange of ideas; we can explore new and better ways forward.
What inspired SPACE10 to focus on Mexico and Mexican designers for your residency and pop-up?
Mexico City's action, energy, and diversity has long inspired us here at SPACE10, and we are thrilled to be spending 14 days unfolding talks, exhibitions, and workshops and getting to meet and learn from the local design community. To us, innovation is not a technical exercise but a creative one, which means its all about gaining new perspectives, which is why we are thrilled to bring on stage 45 speakers to unfold new ideas and visions for a different type of design thinking.
Our residency takes place in Mexico because we are so fascinated by what is happening on the design scene right now - especially around using locally abundant bio materials, local knowledge and techniques, that we hope can spark imagination beyond Mexico. Not as solutions that can be scaled, but about a philosophy and value system that looks at repairing our local environments by designing with materials that are in symbiosis with the places we live. We'll explore how different approaches to sustainable, circular, and regenerative design could redefine our relationships with materials, the land, and each other.
The residents are investigating local biomaterials in Mexico. It's an intensive sprint over the course of six weeks where each resident will conduct design research and experimentation surrounding a biomaterial of their choice. For instance, how might the local soil beneath our feet or the wax of the xunaán kaab — a stingless bee native to Mexico — inspire a new thinking around the materials? A few of the residents are also looking at how to rework the waste from corn, rambutan, and tamarind harvests in a way that supports the local environment and communities. At the end of their residency, they will unfold their projects and learnings at the pop-up, in what we hope is a visual and inspiring exhibition that provokes a new way of looking and ultimately using the locally abundant materials we all have around us.
For this specific event, the residents will be joined on stage by material translator Seetal Solanki, Mexican designer Fernando Laposse and Indian IKEA designer Akanksha Deo Sharma. Fernando Laposse will discuss his work with Indigenous farmers in Mexico, where design and traditional permaculture become tools for change. Seetal Solanki will question what the realm of biomaterials is changing as language and materials evolve. Akanksha Deo Sharma will speak about her IKEA collection FÖRÄNDRING that uses agricultural waste to enable cleaner air in Indian cities.
How did the team ultimately decide on the lecture and hackathon topics? What issues related to climate change feel especially important for Space10 to share as an organization, and why?
With the overarching theme of Beyond Human-Centered Design, we were able to look at a diverse range of topics, but through a coherent lens of how design impacts the subject at hand. From how we can build cities of tomorrow, to new and better food systems, to how technology can be a tool for creating a better everyday life, the approach was to ask: what constitutes good design in this day and age? What is good, and what do we need to rethink?
For the hackathon, we want to explore what is important to the people of Mexico City regarding future technologies, potential applications of these technologies in the home, and possible adoption behaviours on both individual and community levels. As we continue to invite more and technology into our life and home, we want to explore how it can be hopeful, helpful and also private - and do good.
The Life at Home 2030 Hackathon looks to bring multiple perspectives on how tomorrow's technology can reconcile the needs of the many people with the needs of our planet. Through this learning and community-building journey, we're optimistic we can contribute to inclusive innovation to make things better for the many.
What can attendees of the pop-up expect to learn, and what are the hopes for ultimate takeaways?
If you're interested in cultural policies you should join What Design Can Do's vibrant style hall meeting "Tomorrow's Cultural Policies", or perhaps you're keen on better understanding how advanced technologies can better everyday life - which is discussed in "Tomorrow's Technologies". We have talks ranging from ways to better our food systems, "Regenerative Food Futures", as well as conversations on how to build better places to live in "Tomorrow's Neighborhoods". Framed through design, the topics touch on each aspect of everyday life - and we hope they'll be compelling to a diverse group of attendees. And of course for those who are not in Mexico - we'll have a radio show on www.space10.com that will broadcast the panel conversations so we can share these incredible learnings and voices with a global community.
And beyond strictly being educational, we also want people to simply meet, talk, and enjoy a meal together! The space is open to the public so anyone is free to come by, and the cafe Salut is open all days. The pop-up is designed to foster community, so we strongly welcome all to come by and see what we're up to. Alos, we've brought our full team from SPACE10 over so there's plenty of people who are excited to say hello.
From our end at SPACE10, we hope the program will provoke our collective imagination and help us qualify new opportunities, build new partnerships, and design new solutions, all while emboldening people from around the world to take action together for positive change.
Do you have any quick advice for the first steps designers ought to take to implement a more sustainable design philosophy into their practice?
We need designers more than ever and we need systemic solutions. We actually asked a range of designers this very question which resulted in a 3 minute film that we have just released on the SPACE10 pop-up's site https://space10.com/collection/cdmx/ and here you can explore a lot of different perspectives on what constitutes good design in this day and age. Andres Colmenares, Co-director of IAM, who will also do a full day workshop at the pop-up, stated something that really resonated with me:
"I like to think and also to invite others to think that design does not exist. I think it's better to understand design as a verb as the practice of decision-making in many cases on behalf of billions of humans and with implications for other forms of life This is why I think good designing is designing for common good. In the middle of the current social and ecological emergency this is about cultivating ways of thinking-doing guided by universal and timeless values such as responsibility, humility, plurality and above all, for solidarity."— Andres Colmenares Co-director, IAM