Design as Catalyst

I want to share some thoughts and notes I took during the lecture by Ezio Manzini at KHiO, thursday 3rd of March.

Ezio Manzini – designer, engineer, architect, educator and author – is one of the most important thinkers in design today. Manzini’s works are based on strategic design and design for sustainability, with a focus on scenario building and solution development. He acknowledges the influential role design can play in changing our ways of thinking and living. Manzini challenges designers to re-orient creativity towards sustainable solutions.


Even though the lecture was about very general issues and I did neither learn new things nor did I have many “Aha-moments”, I still enjoyed being there. The lecture was about Design as Catalyst for Social Innovation and it mainly dealt with a sustainable future where people are not only seen as part of the problem but as part and possible agents of a sustainable solution. Design not only for the need of people but design with using people as a resource: what can they do and what tools can they use to solve problems by themselves? Manzini says (and I completely agree) that there is a lot of technological innovation – but what we really need are social innovations that are based on a set of sustainable values and qualities. We have to learn how to live better with consuming less considering and improving our quality of relationships, the quality of (public and private) space and quality of time. I somehow missed quality of food :-) – but this would probably come under technological innovation.

Furthermore, Manzini mentioned that many things are happening right now in social innovation, which give positive impulses. People start to organize themselves, finding sustainable solutions for current local problems. I liked the metaphor he gave for sustainability: that first there were only some stars and then, constellations began to form. And even though people and projects are different, they move in a convergent way. Seeing historical examples, this might at one point result in a “revolution”.

Manzini also mentioned the advantage of developing countries and used farmer markets as an example. The modern farmer markets do not only sell products – they are selling a story which is a reason of their re-vival and success in western countries. Developing countries can move directly to this stage – avoiding negative impacts of mass-production and supermarkets that we face in our part of the world.

What I missed a little bit in this talk were examples of where designers actually worked as catalysts. In fact, Manzini asked the questions what professional designers can do in a world where everyone is a designer but he did not give any answers. The projects he shared with us, seemed to work fine without the help of professional designers…


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