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Ledesma: «Design must broaden its perspective and move from a product-centered view to one that takes into account the settings with the aim of transforming them using all available languages»

María Ledesma, PhD explores design languages and advocates for the incorporation of forgotten concepts to the discipline.

María Ledesma, who obtained her PhD in design degree at the University of Buenos Aires, is a specialist in Design Theory and Critique. She is a professor in the Masters and PhD Design programs of both her alma mater and the National University of Littoral. Ledesma also directs the Master in Strategy and Management of the Design Department at the National University of the Northeast, Buenos Aires Province (UNNOBA) while being part of doctorate committees in several institutions.

She taught the Communications course at the School of Architecture, Design, and Urbanism (FADU), UBA and performed as the deputy director of the Graphic Design program and director of the Teaching Specialist career at the same institution. As a guest professor, she has been in charge of seminars and conferences in multiple universities and educational centers in Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Brasil, México, and Colombia; she has also performed as a member of the jury in design and teaching contests both in Argentina and abroad.

Being a specialist in visual studies, in the intervention of design in culture, and in the diverse social behaviors and interactions fostered in the digital era, she has authored the books Graphic Design, a public voice (Paidós, 1997); Design and Communication. Theory and critical approaches (Argonauta, 2003), in collaboration with Leonor Arfuch and Norberto Chaves; and Communication for designers (Nobuko, 2009) and Social Design Rhetoric (Wolkowicz, 2018), alongside Mabel López; besides the multiple articles she has published in national and foreign journals.

IDA summoned her to collaborates in the November issue of the Old&Newsletter featuring in the Expert Opinion section, where she examines the interrelation between the discipline, language, and community.

–Can we rethink or redefine the meaning of design from the standpoint of language? And redefine languages from design’s perspective? Can either one be separated from the other?

–To begin with, we would have to define the broad and diverse concept that is language: broad in terms of the vast field it deals with and diverse due to its multiple definitions. In order to find a common ground, I shall firstly state that language includes human communication established with other human beings, with animals, with machines; as well as communication among animals and machines themselves. That simple variable reveals diverse types of language. If, on top of this, we consider that communication modes imply verbal, iconic, and body issues (just to mention some examples), the concept expands even more and the types of language grow exponentially. Obviously, not all types of language relate to design, however, a lot of them do. Strictly speaking, we must reassess the relationship between design and language by incorporating “forgotten” elements such as body language and the language we use to communicate with machines, to name a few.

–What cases, actors, products or elements, from Argentina or abroad, could embody an uplifting experience of that sort?

–In terms of the relationship between designers and computer languages, definitely, Lev Manovich; and in terms of the link with body language, Andrea Saltzman. In the area of Graphic Design, I have aimed to replace the notion of communication as a mere “transmission of information”, which still appears in many versions of design, for more than 30 years. I think that if we keep understanding communication in that simple way, we will be unable to perceive the differences between the way in which humans communicate with each other, the way in which we communicate with machines, and the way machines communicate among themselves, thus, deprived from comprehension, in the dimension of ambiguity, and from the perspective of those who observe during the process of conferring meaning. That is a significant handicap when we aim at understanding our counterparts, those whom we address and for whom we design.

–Has the bond between design and language changed throughout the XXI century as a result of new technologies and new ways of teaching, living, consuming, and interacting?

–Yes, it has but I am not sure if it has changed in the right way. In my opinion, current transformations demand a digital literacy that not only requires skills to find, analyze, organize, understand, and evaluate information using digital technology, but also, as Manovich claims, the ability to understand software language, that “layer” —I cite the author by heart— that covers all aspects of modern societies. Very little has been studied about this topic. Programs are being taught about it but not much analysis is done about the behaviors enabled, hindered or nullified in the aforementioned process.

–How can we boost the potential of the couple design-language in order to produce innovative solutions that foster improvement in such areas as social inclusion, cultural diversity, gender equality, environmental care, and access to education?

–I have already revealed a wide understanding of the languages tied to the discipline in my previous answers. I can’t think how to relate the design-language couple to the topics included in the question, however, I can see it from an inverted angle: I can reflect about those issues from the standpoint of design and its diverse languages. In that sense, design has plenty to contribute to all those topics. To do so, design must broaden its perspective and move from a product-centered view to one that takes into account the settings with the aim of transforming them using all available languages. Actually, this is something that has been practiced for more than twenty years but not strongly enough. That is precisely the renovated path, wisely opened among others by Beatriz Galán, and followed by certain representatives of contemporary design.