(by Ezio Manzini)
Thinking of 2022, the word that imposes itself on the others is war. War in Europe and wars in the world. Until now, as DESIS, we have been working to face the environmental, social, economic and cultural crisis. We looked at society to recognize the forms of social innovation that were emerging in this multiple crisis. And we have developed projects and reflections to stimulate and support them. Now all this seems overshadowed by new dangers: the division of the world into opposing blocs, the clash between competing nationalisms, the arms race. And all this converges in new wars: those in progress, and those that could explode.
Faced with this, what can we do, as citizens, as designers and, finally, as DESIS Lab? And, in more radical terms: can we really do anything?
To the second question, the answer is certainly “yes”: war is not a natural catastrophe. It is the result of human actions. It emerges in a social context. And this context, just as it is constructed, can be de-constructed. Hence the answer to the first question (what we can do as citizens, but also as designers and as DESIS Labs) is to work to de-construct the contexts of war and build those of peace. And to do so in the cultural dimension (by contesting the inevitability of war and the fracture of the world into friend-enemy polarity) and in the practical one (by building bridges between those who could be pushed to feel mutually enemies).
DESIS has discussed these issues on several occasions. In particular, at the Cumulus Conference in Detroit 2022 (Give peace a chance – DESIS Seminar) and in the DESIS Assembly of last December 12, 2022. And it is proposed to continue this conversation at the next Cumulus conference in Antwerp, in April 2023, and at ServDes in June 2023.
But this awareness-raising activity alone is not enough. As has been said, this activity must stimulate and direct a concrete design action. Some DESIS Labs have already started to move in this direction. In particular, the Politecnico di Milano has launched the Design Against War initiative: a call for concepts against war, in all its manifestations of aggression. The call, addressed to students of the Milan Polytechnic and any other Italian and international universities, says: “every possible idea of product, service, space and communication is welcome, as are other proposals for possible initiatives to organise“. It is therefore a very broad call, the intent of which is to explore what students today imagine anti-war design can do.
From here we can move forward in directions that are very different but with a common trait: they are all design activities that take place because the designers themselves promote them with determination. In other words, they are forms of “design activism”. Of course, this mode of action must not replace other ways of doing, which are and remain important in other fields of design for social innovation. But, today, to stimulate and promote design for peace actions, this form of design activism becomes completely necessary. And, seems to me, this has also been the main message that emerged from the DESIS Assembly 2022.