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Novik: «Free from the chains of shape and product, design establishes a creative dialogue with multiple disciplines and skills with the aim of devising solutions based on new methods and approaches»

Researcher, professor, and consultant Laura Novik explains her transversal conception of design culture and examines outstanding cases in Argentina and abroad.

Having 30 years of experience in the fields of fashion and design, Chaco native Laura Novik has become a renowned trend researcher and regional design promotor. From her consulting agency Blink Design, established in Chile, she develops content strategies, focused on the duality future-sustainability, for several organizations, such as View Publishers, Promperú (Peru), Inexmoda (Colombia), and McCann Ericskon (Chile), among others. Due to her international profile, she was appointed member of the jury that grants the Diseño Responde Award – Latin American Challenge, backed by the Danish project INDEX and the University for Development (Chile) On the same note, she is also chair of the Scientific Committee of Academic Peers Ixel Fashion (Colombia). Her work has been published by such printing houses as Berg Publishers, Bloombsury Publishers, and UC Editions.

Her transversal training includes background in the fields of dance, theatre, and movies. After studying Architecture for five years at the FADU-UBA, she undertook a post-graduate program in Design Management (Italian Cooperation: Milan Polytechnic, Polimoda Firenze, ISIA Roma) and a specialization course about Design Management for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (Spanish Cooperation). In 1989, she won the Fabric and Talent Award granted by the company Alpargatas, where she designed several collections while being an intern.

Since the year 2000 she has undertaken the task of examining the connections among design, sustainability, and entrepreneurship in Latin America, initially, as coordinator of the first Design Companies Hatchery in Argentina, hosted by the FADU-UBA, and, later, between 2003 and 2006, as a participant of the project Latin Identities Circuit, sponsored by Unesco. Starting in 2007 she has boosted Design Roots, a platform aimed at promoting creative and ethical practices as well as designing future landscapes that foster the collaboration of native communities and designers through journeys to exchange knowledge.

As a scholar, between 1990 and 1994, she coordinated the first program in Garment Design at a private institution, the Visual Arts Center; simultaneously, she was a titular professor of the Garment and Textile Design program at the UBA, where important representatives of national fashion and academics were trained. Abroad, she led the Design Workshop at the Andes University (Colombia) and she has been a visiting professor at such universities as the William and Mary College (United States), the Colombian Collegiate of Medellin, and the SENAC (Brazil). She is currently the head of the Strategic Collection Design Certification at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, while teaching the class Prospective and Trends, included in the Design BA program of San Andrés University and the Product Management and Fashion Marketing courses of the MA in Marketing and Communication at the same university.

Invited by IDA Foundation, Novik discusses, in the “Expert Opinion” of the Old&Newsletter, the transformations design is going through within the cultural landscape and about the role it will play in building the future.

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

–In the historical age we experience today, it is undeniable that design culture nurtures the global culture flow, which has its core in a hyper connected society while working as one of its instruments at the same time. However, I agree with Ezio Manzini, that the lack of thorough debate about the cultural connection has become an obstacle for design to establish itself as a true agent of social and political change.

In 2004, when Bruce Mau said: “the point is not the world of design but the design of the world”, he pinched-off the bubble that had kept design exclusively focused on the development of products, services, and communication devices, while questioning the lack of reflection about the role of contemporary design as an agent of cultural transformation. Today, almost 20 years after the publication of his book Massive Change and of the creation of the concept “design thinking” by David Kelley, a notion centered on the promotion of design tools and methods —its ways of thinking and doing (design thinking, design doing)—, we are finally aware of the ways in which design culture has entered such diverse arenas as the ones related to business, environmental, or public administration. Today, just as the entire human kind is articulating collaborative efforts from multiple disciplines and contexts with the goal of dealing with the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, ensuring our species’ survival, and saving the world’s ecosystems, this connection has risen beyond mere potential. It is time to share knowledge and speed up processes.

–What cases, actors, products or elements related to Argentine and international culture embody an uplifting experience of that sort?

–Several initiatives show this transformation in terms of design culture and design thinking aimed at impacting global culture. In this respect, I would highlight the relevance of Index Project, a Danish, non-profit organization that promotes design projects aimed at improving life standards globally. Created in 2002, alongside the INDEX Award: Design to Improve Life. I was fortunate enough to learn about this initiative since its origin due to my relationship with designer Alex Blanch, who was summoned, among other international experts, by the project’s creator, Kigge Hvid, to be a member of the jury during the first events. INDEX was created with the aim of making an impact in the international design agenda —today, it is considered the Nobel Prize of Design— and it has achieved this goal by redirecting the objectives of a discipline that was previously commercially-oriented and is now focused on improving life standards for everyone. The award pushed the traditional limits of design by creating categories to acknowledge design that improves life quality. In that way, the purpose of design is no longer the creation of products, spaces, and information but the realization of how these elements intervene in the ways in which people adapt to artificial environments while preserving the natural systems; a proposal that resonates with the philosophy of John Thackara. Such an approach has become a global movement that conceives designers as agents of change and design as a life-support discipline.

In 2020, Index Project began promoting these ideas in our continent through the Design Responds Award. Latin American Challenge, alongside the University for Development of Chile, the IDB, and Ágora Foundation. I am very proud to be a member of the jury in this contest that invites all young creators of our region to develop efficient and innovative solutions, from a local approach, that tackle problems either unleashed or expanded by the Covid-19 pandemic within our communities.

The Brazilian project A gente Transforma (We transform), an institute that incubates social enterprises meant to transform communities through architecture and design, stood out. Led by Marcelo Rosembaum, the initiative follows the Brazilian design tradition inaugurated by Piracema de Design Project envisioned by designer Heloisa Crocco and historian José Nemmer, both of whom were deeply committed to promote local identity and community development through design. A Gente Transforma continues this legacy while implementing new co-creation processes that involve design collectives formed by students, brands, governmental entities, mass media, and communities, all of which combine efforts in favor of sustainable development.

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

–Since the late XXth century, within a context defined by Jeremy Rifkin as the Third Industrial Revolution, design began adapting to a transition phase marked by successive crises and it became —alongside other disciplines— in an instrument for acquiring social, cultural, environmental, technological, and political learning.

Design is currently experiencing a transformation process in different areas from technological to epistemological principles, which can be understood as a great repositioning opportunity for a discipline that seemed to doom designers to keep producing only for other designers. Free from the constraints of shape and product, design is establishing now a creative dialogue with multiple disciplines and skills with the aim of providing solutions based on new methods and perspectives.

“The next ‘big thing’ is not a thing. Is a change in the relationship among things”, Bill Buxton, from Microsoft Research, observed while adding: “Without listening to the driver we will soon crash into the wall of complexity”. I am very interested in conceiving the designer as a driver which is clearly reflected in the Ocean Cleanup Array, an example of how the intersection between engineering and designing skills can produce a new business model based on design thinking. A new creative profile emerges from this process, embodied in Boyan Slat, self-identified as a designer even when he was an engineer student, who was nominated by Young Entrepreneurs Worldwide as one of the 20 most promising entrepreneurs. The project shows how existing technologies converge with the purpose of developing new functionalities of global impact through a case. It is a notable case since it involves existing elements such as trawl fishing tools, marine buoys for high seas, conveyor belts, and trawling ships, that are combined to find an original solution to one of the main environmental sea problems, as is the overwhelming quantity of plastics floating in the oceans.

–How can we boost the potential of this pairing 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?

–Through design education, without a question. I had the chance of monitoring at close range the example of the School of Design incorporated to the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile and its 2004 project —developed under the leadership of Alex Blanch— that resulted in the first transversal program of Design in the region, linked to the areas of Humanities, Medicine, Economy, Management, and Engineering (the program through which I obtained a BA in Design degree, without Honors). This approach was key in the school’s rise in the QS16 university ranking, which pinpointed it as part of the top 30 schools in the world; today, its graduates not only have employment certainty but also integrate teams that transform organizations and businesses with the goal of facing technological, social, and environmental challenges with a projection into the future.

This initiative has become the keystone that provided a route map to define the Design undergraduate program at the San Andrés University, the first Design career free from other specialties in Argentina that, as I understand, is boosting a cultural change in terms of Design education nationally…; so much so that the year after it opened, other two universities were already following suit. The idea, promoted by the Estebecorena Brothers in 2011 and developed by Alex Blanch in 2016, integrated the precepts of the Danish school KaosPilot, a center specialized in Business Design training focused in social innovation, critical design models, and prospective design, and the INDEX project understanding of design as a life support and the conception of designers as agents of change.

Such global and regional experiences are rooted in the principles of local culture and its traditions linked to participative design practices, particularly evident in Argentine architecture of the 70’s, avant-garde art connected to science, and in the current dynamics of one of the sectors that have developed the most lately as are the cultural industries —with its audiovisual, musical, and videogame subsectors—, e-commerce platforms, consulting firms with strong online components, the aerospace sector, and the programming sector.

In this sense, the trend is to build an educational project that understands global changes through local strengths and integrates horizontally the voices of both professors and students with the goal of creating a disruptive educational device that will train the next generations of designers committed to transform their communities.