Real World: Design, Politics, Future

Papanek Symposium 2019

September 26–27

Porto Design Biennale, Portugal

Biblioteca Municipal Almeida Garrett, Porto, Portugal

Design is in crisis: Or, at the very least, in massive transition, exploring and rediscovering its potential during deeply problematic times. Real World: Design, Politics, Future, the Papanek Symposium 2019, investigates design’s inherent tensions in the context of rising global far-right populism and the asphyxiating manipulation of information in a post-truth era.  

What potential is there for envisaging alternative political futures, and what role might design, and its politics, have in contributing to those futures? Strands of contemporary design practice proffer a critical, and often apocalyptic and dystopian vision of the future, while others happily conform to a financial system that demands a new consumable product for each and every multifarious context. The stakes for design have never been higher, as its interventions are dispersed across all aspects of the informational, virtual, and material strata that shape our real worlds.

Papanek Symposium 2019, Real World: Design, Politics, Future © Porto Design Biennale, Portugal

The Papanek Symposium 2019, organised by Alison J. Clarke and Francisco Laranjo in partnership with the Porto Design Biennale, debates both the future, and the future of design: the places, ideas and means by which the politics of design, and the design of politics come together. The event is launched by President of University of Applied Arts Vienna,  Dr. Gerald Bast, and His Excellency Ambassador Dr. Robert Zischg Austrian Ambassador to Portugal, along with the conveners.

Speakers in the first day’s proceedings included: Ramia Mazé, Aalto University, FI (‘Control or Care? Politics of Designing Visions of the Future’); Sasha Costanza-Chock, Associate Professor of Civic Media at MIT, USA (‘Design Justice: Principles, Processes, and Practices to Challenge Systemic Inequalities’); Flavia Dzodan, lecturer and research fellow, Critical Studies department, Sandberg Institute, NL (‘Design for Decolonial Futures: How 17th century Taxonomies Continue Shaping Our Technologies’); Natsai Audrey Chieza, UK   (‘Convergence, A New Generation of Biomaterials’); Annelys de Vet, BE (Visual Strategies for Solidarity: How to Engage in Polarized Realities Through Design?’); Cameron Tonkinwise, Director of the Design Innovation Research Centre at the University of Technology Sydney, Australia (‘Reliable, Local, Scalable: The Postcolonial Trilemma of Cosmo-Localism’)

Papanek Symposium 2019, Real World: Design, Politics, Future © Porto Design Biennale, Portugal

The second day’s proceedings revolved around the Decolonising Design Group’s practical workshops with the themes I. Provincialising Design: Non-western Cosmologies and Indigenous Knowledge; II. Design Politics of Bodies: Tackling the Coloniality of Bodies and Borders;  III. Decoloniality and Pedagogy: Research and Learning Within the Westernised University 


Ramia Mazé

specializes in participatory and critical practices of design. She is Professor of New Frontiers in Design at Aalto University in Finland. Previously in Sweden, she worked at Konstfack College of Arts Crafts and Design, KTH Royal Institute of Technology School of Architecture, the national PhD school Designfakulteten, and the Interactive Institute. A designer and architect by training, her PhD is in interaction design. She has led, published and exhibited widely through major interdisciplinary and international practice-based design research projects, most recently in areas of social innovation, sustainable design, design policy and activism. Recent projects include ‘Designing Social Innovation’ survey of projects in the US and Europe, and the cultural program and book DESIGN ACT Socially- and politically-engaged design today.

Natsai Audrey Chieza

is a designer, change-maker, and TED speaker working at the intersection of creative and biotechnology industries. She is Founder and Director of Faber Futures, a London-based biodesign lab that is catalysing the alignment of DNA-scale engineering with the methods and principles of critical design thinking for the circular economy. Her manifesto lays out how this emerging technology converges with craft and interacts with the contemporary realities of resource scarcity, climate change, and sustainable development. Natsai’s pioneering design-driven practice with bacteria pigments for sustainable textile finishing has been exhibited at prestigious institutions internationally and sits in permanent collections including at the Forbes Pigment Collection at Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge MA. Natsai was honoree of OkayAfrica’s 100 Women in 2018 for her work in STEM.

Sasha Costanza-Chock

(pronouns: they/them or she/her) is a scholar, activist, and media-maker, and currently Associate Professor of Civic Media at MIT. They are a Faculty Associate at the Berkman-Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, Faculty Affiliate with the MIT Open Documentary Lab and the MIT Center for Civic Media, and creator of the MIT Codesign Studio. Their work focuses on social movements, transformative media organizing, and design justice. Sasha’s first book, Out of the Shadows, Into the Streets: Transmedia Organizing and the Immigrant Rights Movement (2014) was published by the MIT Press. They are a board member of Allied Media Projects (AMP); AMP convenes the annual Allied Media Conference and cultivates media strategies for a more just, creative and collaborative world.

Flavia Dzodan

is a writer, media analyst and cultural critic based in Amsterdam. She is a lecturer and research fellow at the Critical Studies department at the Sandberg Institute. Her research is focused on the politics of Artificial Intelligence and algorithms at the intersections of (neo)colonialism, race and gender. In her research Flavia examines the ways that technology is created and deployed to reproduce historical patterns of social control. She is the editor of the blog This Political Woman, where she has written about the rise of the alt-right, Big Data, networks, algorithms and community surveillance. She has been published at Dissent Magazine, The Guardian and The Washington Post among others.

Cameron Tonkinwise

is the Director of the Design Innovation Research Centre at the University of Technology Sydney; formerly Director of Design Studies and Doctoral Studies at Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Design, Associate Dean of Sustainability at Parsons The New School for Design and co-chair of the Tishman Environment and Design Center at the New School in NYC. His primary area of research and teaching is Sustainable Design. Cameron is widely published on the ways in which Service Design can advance Social Sustainability by decoupling use and ownership – what these days is referred to as the ‘Sharing Economy.’ Cameron’s current focus, in collaboration with colleagues at CMU and an international network of scholar-practitioners, is Transition Design – design-enabled multi-level, multi-stage structural change toward more sustainable futures.

Annelys de Vet

is a Belgium based Dutch designer, curator and initiator. De Vet’s work explores the role of design in relation to the public and political discourse. Since 2009 she has headed the MA in Design ‘Think Tank for Visual Strategies’ at the Sandberg Instituut. She is the founding and artistic director of the thought provoking design label Disarming Design from Palestine, generating useful products from Palestine that spread alternative narratives about life under occupation.  She co-curated the exhibition Unmapping the World (2014) on critical contemporary mapping practices, for the ExperimentaDesign Biennale, Lisbon, Portugal.

Decolonising Design Group

was founded in 2016 by eight design researchers, artists, and activists stemming from or with ties to the Global South, as a response to Euro- and Anglocentric socio-technical politics and pedagogies of design as both a field of research and praxis. The group does not aim to offer an “alternative perspective” on design, but rather to question the very foundations upon which the discipline was established.