Design, to differentiate it from art, is all about function. Aesthetics, or the visual, the beautiful, is but one of many ways a thing can be functional. Sometimes the simplest way to serve a function is absolute plainness, absolute clarity. This is certainly the case for Iceland’s big design festival, and it’s opening symposium. DesignMarch is, as the name suggests, a festival of design, in March. Setting the tone for each year’s festival is DesignTalks, the first day of the festival, dedicated to lectures and presentations from some of the leading lights of design. The DesignTalks are curated by Hlín Helga, we sat down with her and festival manager Sara Jónsdóttir.
What is DesignTalks?
Hlín: DesignTalks it the keynote event at DesignMarch, more often than not it explores and describes what design can do for the public. For that, we find a small selection of the leading designers and architects of the day. We tend to communicate the importance of the dialogue, the intersection, the co-operation, and how that creates value, how the dialogue is the main thrust of the primary purpose of design, that is to make things better.
Sara: DesignTalks, in many respects, serves as a counterpart to the rest of the DesignMarch festival, where the exhibitions from Icelandic designers at the festival form a sort of dialogue with the world, and the festival itself introduces Icelandic design to the international community. DesignTalks brings international voices here—and with them inspiration, ideas—thus making the connection work both ways.
This is the tenth DesignMarch…
Hlín: The theme this year is especially open, it has a wide scope, it’s celebratory…
Sara: The word that comes to mind is “confetti”…
Hlín: We call it “Power and Potential”. Showing what we can achieve. It’s a celebration.
Does the theme connect with the wider festival?
Sara: It hasn’t really been a curated festival, as such. We can’t really create themes, we reflect what’s happening in the design scene, rather transparently. But we are at a crossroads, turning ten years old, so we’ve been looking inwards, trying to mark a path forward, and from that introspective conversation, we’ve gotten a mandate from the design community to layer the festival a bit. We now have a selection committee. This way we can put emphasis on quality and at the same time, take some strain off “smaller” exhibitors, allow for smaller, simpler, more low-key shows by putting the spotlight on “highlights”.
What are you excited about at DesignTalks?
Hlín: We have such a great group of designers speaking. We’ve never had as many speakers, with very varied voices, more young designers with some years of experience but still a fresh perspective. We have people talking about the challenges facing countries that are near the arctic circle, how to address the changing terrain that comes with the melting of glaciers, design approaches to social housing in the growing worldwide housing crisis. We have speakers from a future living lab, where they study new modes of living, investigate approachable changes to lifestyle to become more sustainable. We have speculative designers coming over, that have been looking into design as a tool to create new kinds of life forms. It’s called Synthetic Biology, it poses fascinating questions. There are a lot of interesting questions coming up, like in terms of how we think about “creating a better future”, who decides what’s better? There isn’t a consensus there.
Then we are also looking into design and technology, how that progresses and what our roles as designers are in that progression. Design and social change, design and how it intersects with politics, or in other words, how transformative ideas become reality.
Sara: We’re also seeing more multidisciplinary designers. To Icelanders this is maybe nothing new, you have to wear many hats here, but it’s becoming a growing trend internationally, and we have some people talking about how the different fields of art and design they practice have influenced each other, and come together into projects. We get to see the variety of design in many ways, both in how it manifests directly as designed pieces but also how it travels and touches different things.
Hlín: We see a growing trend, borne of this new multidisciplinary tendency, of collaboration, where people that are used to working in different fields have an easier time creating creative forums where things happen.
So it ranges from the practical to the fantastical, from descriptions of successful working designs to visions of different possible futures.
Sara: Design doesn’t need to be explained as much nowadays, so DesignTalks today speaks to a great and growing number of people, as the basic language of it is understood by a group greatly larger than just the designers. Most people that are interested in the topics we’ve mentioned should both enjoy and learn from these lectures.
DesignTalks will be held on March 15th from 8:30 at Harpa. Tickets are 10.900 ISK and can be bought here.