Barcelona Cultura

Oscar Guayabero: “We are living in a moment of transition and design is taking too long to understand it”

Oscar Guayabero (1968) is a para-designer. He does not design -he says- he activates design. And he does it through thinking, writing and curating exhibitions, among other things. He advises companies and institutions in terms of communication and design of services and products, teaches at different design schools and publishes articles.

Even though he does not design, he is constantly moving in the field. This is precisely what links him to the designer, thinker and pedagogue Victor J. Papanek. The Design Museum of Barcelona has dedicated its newest temporary exhibition to him, "Victor Papanek: The Politics of Design". Kicking off on October 30th, the exhibition is in collaboration with the Vitra Design Museum, together with the Victor J. Papanek Foundation, University of Applied Arts Vienna.

Who was Victor J. Papanek?

He was a designer who ended up becoming an intellectual with an unusual line of work. He did not respond to the classic designer profile, but generated environments for contemplation. He raised the debate about the role design should play in society, and he did it at a time of change: the late sixties. Up until this moment, his academic activity, books and the conferences he gave all over the world created an important influence in the sector, especially in product design. He went down in the history of design more for his conceptual proposals than his works. In fact, many of his pieces and projects are designed in collaboration with his students. Even though he is not a typical designer, from his design pedagogy work he generated projects that ended up becoming possible products or services.

Which role, according to him, should design assume?

In his book "Design for the Real World" he says there are few professions more harmful than design. With this he questions the work of designers at the service of the client just for earning money; and with this argument throws the design scene in crisis. In fact, he was eventually expelled from the Association of Designers of the United States for saying it. Papanek argues that design acts as a tool of change to improve society.

What ideas were defended in his speech?

First of all, Papanek stands out from the idea of ​​universal design and denies the existence of a universal user. That is why he defends the design for minorities, which in reality are the majority, because if you add all the people which do not correspond to the universal standard (white man, between 35 and 40 years old, high purchasing power, high to medium cultural value, without any kind of functional diversity…), whoever is left out will be a very small sector of society. “Design for-all” is flexible in order to adapt to the capabilities of these minorities.

Secondly, he states that design is more part of the problem rather than the solution when it comes to sustainability. The vast majority of design is not sustainable and is at the service of the industrial growth, but we cannot grow indefinitely in a finite environment, which is the world. In fact, Papanek is one of the first thinkers to propose that we have to design towards the ecological transition, towards a model in which what we do is sustainable in relation to the capabilities of our planet.

The third point would be about collaborative design or co-design, which includes the user in the process of design creation. It does not consider that the end user (who does not consume) has to be a depository of what we design, but that he or she must be placed in the center of the work. With their collaboration and knowledge we can really solve the real problems.

In parallel to the exhibition, a program of activities that you have organized will be developed. What is it about?

We thought Barcelona could contribute to the exhibition with a line of thought that would consist of making an updated reading of Papanek's concepts. In other words, another interpretation of his way of thinking, and another reading of the validity of his approach today. We will do it with a cineforum, various round tables in which we talk about how art interprets Papanek's work and how to propose sustainability, whether in terms of resistance or collaboration. We will also hold internal meetings to develop a final paper on sustainability and social design. Apart from the inaugural conference held by the exhibition's curators (Amelie Klein and Alison J. Clarke), the head of the program will be John Thackara, who would be the ‘new Papanek’ of our days. He was one of the first ones to talk about digital disappointment and how to survive the green economy. In parallel, the Museum is already working on involving design schools in the speech of the exhibition with different proposals.

Let's take a look at Barcelona. How is the city approaching Papanek's dynamics of social design?

Design is taking too long to understand that reality is changing. We are living in a moment of transition, which is not voluntary but forced. Our habitat will change radically in the coming years, and will also change in relation to our attitude and our functioning. Barcelona is one of the cities with the greatest number of design schools in the world, and critical thinking is being created around the role of the designer in society. In a moment when the current government of the City Council is implementing strategies around the economy of the commons, I would say that we have an opportunity to generate a new story - or in any case, to review the current one. Unlike other cities, our strongest point is knowledge. We are in a very privileged situation of being able to generate a new way of doing things, with designers trying to respond -as Papanek would say- to the real world.

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