Moving up the hill from RISD's campus to Brown's, the second day of Better World by Design started off on a good foot with panel discussions taking place across the university's campus. "How do we define local food, when the nearest oranges are from Florida?" was a question raised at the Local Food Realities panel. The other panels covered topics like designing for others and persuasive communication, integral facets of the design process.
After a break mingling over baked potatoes from the Providence Potato Company and Recycle-a-Bike, speaker sessions followed with Noel Wilson of Catapult Design starting off the first session. Wilson championed design research in a suitcase, concluding by asking the audience, "How might we survive the 'hype' in socially motivated design and still have the freedom and budget to iterate?" No one seemed to have the answer, but it spurred more thoughts and questions from the filled auditorium.
Between speakers was a presentation from Jason Chua and Eugene Korsunskiy, two of the guys behind "SparkTruck," an educational maker-space on wheels, which aims to spread the fun of hands-on learning and encourage kids to find their inner maker. This past summer, SparkTruck has been driving across the country, and, fortunately for the folks at BWxD, they were able to make a stop on Brown's main green. The idea was born out of a thesis project at Stanford d.school when a team of six students was surprised at the lack of hands-on building in schools due to tight budgets and testing requirements. They decided to launch a Kickstarter campaign to create SparkTruck, outfitted with every gadget needed to make a mobile hacker station for kids to explore making and technology. Six months later, they arrived in Providence, giving some insight into the work they've accomplished and where they hope to go from here.Easily one of the best presentations of the day, Chua and Korsunskly blew the audience away with their infectious passion for making and sharing that with others. The duo showed a video of ecstatic children watching their designs be turned into stamps thanks to the in-truck laser cutter, and the audience shared in their enthusiasm. "This is waaaay cooler than I though it would be," said one girl from the video.
Next up was Lorna Ross, manager of the design group at the Center for Innovation at the Mayo Clinic. Ross ran the Design for Human Wellbeing Group at the MIT Media Lab Europe, and has extensive experience in large-scale strategic projects with an impressive list of clientele. Trained as a fashion designer, Ross felt a strange attraction to the realm of healthcare and medicine, and decided to get involved because she felt she could make an impact in the overall experience.
"Most consumer/market driven industries have been leveraging design extensively understanding that at the core of innovation is creativity and that creativity is an illusive skill taught to a rather obscure group of individuals called designers," Ross told the crowd. "Design is one of the most effective ways to effect behavior, far greater than fear, intimidation or coercion."
Despite some technical difficulties, Ross's presentation seemed to strike a chord with the significantly design-leaning audience. Ross raised some interesting points on designers as drivers for change at the Mayo Clinic, and showed a compelling visual her team at the clinic had put together on the complexity of problems in healthcare. Walking the crowd through the experience of one patient, Ross showed the surprising number of layers that can surround each user, and also laid out the road map for her own work. "Service design is the practice of moving from complexity and fragmentation to clarity and interconnectedness," said Ross.
An amazingly delicious lunch followed, catered by the local treasure, AS220. Aside from housing a spectacular restaurant serving a seasonal menu of vegan and vegetarian dishes, Foo(d), AS220 is home to a FabLab, a Printshop and a gallery space, as well as on-site living and residencies for artists and designers. If you ever find yourself in the Providence area, you have to check it out.
The rest of the afternoon featured a multitude of simultaneously running workshops, from woodworking to speed making. "Re-Thinking Political Engagement," was one of the highlights, organized by the Design for America chapter at RISD and Brown led by RISD Industrial Design senior Annie Wu. The workshop looked at the problem of declining engagement in voting, specifically at Brown and RISD, but also happening at a macro-scale throughout the country. RISD Votes, as well as representatives from Brown Democrats and Republicans offered facts and insight into the problem, while teams broke off to brainstorm solutions using the Design for America methodology.
A video from the Speed Making workshop lead by Peter Smart, author of 50 Problems in 50 Days. Using stacks of cardboard tubes, wood sticks, cloth, tape, wire and other oddities, participants designed water-carriers using rapid-prototyping techniques.
Back at RISD, "Polyhedra by Weaving" took place in the Edna Lawrence Nature Lab, a spectacular home to shelves of taxidermy-ed animals, hanging skeletons, seedpod samples, two turtle doves, and a few turtles (just to cite a few). The workshop was organized by Sarah Pease of RISD STEAM, a club of art and design students focused on exploring STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields and collaborating with or incorporating them into their work. Design science is perhaps the best example of this, and attendees of the conference were able to leave with their very own steel polyhedra.
Wrapping up the action-packed day, conference-goers shuttled over to Central Falls, RI to attend "Lush," a garden-inspired mixer. Barrels of hard cider were rolled in to fuel the evening of dancing and discussing under a giant tent beneath the stars. BWxD once again did not fail to impress with its selection of locally catered hors d'oeurves, which were served alongside mealworms and grasshoppers (surprisingly delicious!).
Tomorrow marks the third and final day of BWxD, featuring panels on the relevance of big data and workshops on hip-hop for social change. Looking forward!
Carly Ayres is a writer using language and interaction to engage people in new and interesting ways. She previously penned "In the Details," Core77's weekly deep-dive into the making of a new product or project. Along the way, she covered rugs with dinosaurs, shrink-wrapped buildings, kinetic military boots, and a myriad of other topics. She attended the Rhode Island School of Design and lives in New York.