Lang: «The identity of Argentine design is very defined but only few people are able to pinpoint it, since it is often searched for on the surface, when it resides in the productive process, within a shared way of making things that identifies us»
The coordinator of the Creative Industries Market Design (MICA) sector, Germán Lang, warns us about the consequences of focusing exclusively on developing design projects without considering such concepts as cultural economy and knowledge and forgetting to create management areas and sites that enable professional reflection.
Holding a Graphic Design title by the School of Architecture, Design, and Urbanism of the University of Buenos Aires (FADU-UBA), Germán Lang is a professor, a mentor of creative projects, a public policy advisor, and a manager. After launching two clothing brands, his multidisciplinary calling led him to management tasks through which he produced and merged independent cultural proposals that strengthened the design sector not only in Argentina but also in the rest of South America.
Interviewed for the Expert Opinion section of 2020’s first Old&Newsletter, the creator of the Cultural Production Factory of the National University of José Clemente Paz (UNPAZ) analyzes the production process and the behavior of the agents of Argentine design from a comprehensive and strategic perspective.
–What is your experience in the field of design?
–I was trained as a graphic designer at the FADU-UBA, an institution where I developed my teaching career for 15 years as professor of the courses: Morphology I and Garment Design II.
The 2001 social, economic, and political crisis introduced me to another area of design for which I was not formally trained, thus creating in 2002 the clothing brand Open your Mind, established inside the Bond Street Shopping Gallery and meant to dress androgynous clients of the early 21st century. Three years later, I launched my second company, Langg, devoted to reinvent classic garments that would dress men and women until the year 2013.
After that, I participated in the creation of the first Multidisciplinary Association of Argentine Entrepreneurial Designers, Design Content, Civil Association. Later on, I became involved in cultural management, particularly in the field of public policies –as coordinator of the Design area in the Creative Industries Market (MICA)– a role that has made me tour the country in search of the identity of design. Simultaneously, I also practice my profession as a researcher at the National University of José C. Paz, where I have contributed to several projects related to strategic communication for small and medium-sized enterprises and social economy.
–What features define pieces that possess a fine design?
–A piece turns into a fine design when it covers people’s needs, whether on a local or a global scale, thus improving the life standards of a social group in an accessible way and generating a positive environmental impact. Generally, most of the pieces are recognized as “fine design” are also aesthetically acceptable but they hardly ever have a positive social impact. Those pieces usually pose more problems than solutions to our lifestyle. Design must adapt to society and not the other way around.
–Is there a unique “Argentine design” identity? Is there a single “Argentine design”?
–The identity of Argentine design is very defined but only few people are able to pinpoint it, since it is often searched for on the surface, when it actually resides in the productive process, within a shared way of making things that identifies us. Working in a precarious environment that lacks resources, as is the case in an emerging economy, encourages the full development of our designers’ wit. Thus, our DNA is the way in which we devise ideas, the material we use to execute them, and how we carry them out. Aesthetically speaking –that is in a shallow level–, our design is as diverse as is the identity of different Argentinian regions. Culture is embedded in design expressions, for that reason, we can find as many different ways of producing design as cultural expressions exist within a given territory.
–Is design socially valued in Argentina? Do enterprises value it?
–Design produced in Argentina is not entirely valued by society, since only a minority group within the community appropriates it.
In this country, design is still elitist, only few people have access to it, both in an economic and in a cultural sense. Despite the many years of historical development experienced by this field, design has not been able to become a massive practice yet. One of the causes of this is the lack of continuity in State policies aimed at boosting the appropriation and promotion of national production. I believe the State must become an active agent in the process of design democratization, enabling its expansion throughout the whole territory and, in a second stage, abroad.
–What is the significance of archives and design patrimonial collections?
–They are of the utmost importance, without design archives memory will be inevitably lost and, without memory, design would be trapped in a state of permanent re-birth. It is crucial for us to tell and retell our own history of design in a rigorous, academic way (the class hours devoted to reflect upon our national history of design are not nearly enough) that will validate its wide social knowledge and recognition.
Once we produce our own design archives and gather well preserved patrimonial collections, we will be able to stop looking for role models abroad and conceive ourselves as producers responsible for a valuable legacy. Heritage fosters the creation not only of a productive, project-oriented idiosyncrasy but also of our own history, memory, and identity.
–Why is it necessary to preserve the memory of design?
–The most valuable asset of communities depends on the constitution and preservation of its memory; if we can’t produce our own collective memory, we become more vulnerable to be colonized. We must be aware of the significance of thinking, reflecting about ourselves, producing, and expressing our mind. Nowadays, cultural economy and knowledge are key variables for the socioeconomic development of communities, for that reason, it is imperative to overcome the notion that primary-sector production is the only vehicle of development and recognize the importance of cultural and knowledge production. The world craves new ideas and when those are not properly identified and safeguarded by States, they run a higher risk to be stolen by anyone. The biggest menace that threatens our legacy is its potential appropriation by hegemonic cultures, a danger that grows when we fail to protect the patrimony and make our memory visible.
–What institutional conditions are required to accomplish it?
–In the first place, it must have a plural and democratic perspective, one that approaches design on a national level while taking into account all other expressions born throughout our vast territory.
Such an institution must not focus only on design produced in big cities. It should be able to include as many expressions as possible. In that respect, the work carried out by –I–D–A Foundation has been crucial, since most of its patrimony represents a big percentage of national design. This is fundamental, for projects are as diverse as the many different training pedagogies and productive needs present in Argentina. Finally, an institution with such characteristics must also have State support in order to have the resources needed to preserve and recover our legacy.
–Why is it that in Argentina, in contrast with the rest of the world, there are almost no museum spaces devoted to design?
–It is a huge pending assignment. The design community must be aware of it and demand the creation of State supported spaces devoted to display the production contributed by different generations.
We must build venues meant to democratize the access to our national design production. Everyone involved in the field of design, including scholars, public instances, the third sector, and the private investors, must devise common strategies to that effect. Without a joint effort it will be extremely difficult to achieve this goal in the short term, particularly because nowadays people is busy just trying to cover their basic needs. The designer must become an active agent of change and turn into an activist in the field.
–What are the future challenges that will be faced by the design community?
–The main challenges faced by the design community are to conceive itself as a sector and to organize meetings and debates with the purpose of producing legal figures and status common to all its members. All actors within this diverse and rich community should get involved in management tasks and should aid in the creation of associations meant to stand the test of time. Sometimes I think that all efforts revolve around specific projects, when we should be focused on developing more spaces devoted to promote and display existing design rather than just producing new pieces. Much more social commitment and responsibility is needed. In part, this problem stems from the nature of our academic programs and curricula, which are centered on teaching how to solve problems linked to specific projects and product conditions, while undermining formation practices that would develop other areas of the discipline and help consolidate a strong design sector.