Picture this: a major state sponsored university that teaches industrial design in an important city. However, none of the teachers are designers. Core fields of knowledge such as ergonomics and sustainability are foreign words for the people in charge of the course, and those who designed it were totally lacking in design culture.
The result? Despite hundreds of graduates every year there is no local industrial design industry.
This is the University of Málaga in 2012, and as it was our last year I decided to team up with five friends and we organized the first design focused event held here in years. We did this with no initial budget, and no previous experience in event organization. We were determined to create an event where subjects that the institution had abandoned were talked about, with a focus on sustainable design and entrepreneurship.
One day event on design and sustainability
For two months we hassled different university departments for permissions and in-species sponsorships, got a few companies on board and convinced a selection of excellent design professionals to come for the day and give a talk for free. We even tried our hand at crowdfunding.
What was meant to be a couple of talks during the morning turned into an 11 hour, all day event. We even had to change the venue because the initial inscriptions were filled out in two days. In the end almost 400 students and designers assisted, with an average of ten percent more viewing it from nine countries over the internet.
An interesting experiment, was projecting tweets with the event hash-tag in real time. This produced a valuable and at times very humorous conversation.
In any case, something has changed at the university since the event. We proved a point that students can take ownership of the academic material they want to learn. The feedback indicated that the main objectives -inspiring people and placing design on the table again- were achieved.
The fact that the speakers were in the most part brilliant entrepreneurial industrial designers, engineers and architects with a strong social focus allowed a rare glimpse into valuable professional knowledge. The contrast to the wholly academic and outdated approach of the university was obvious.
A record number of design related entrepreneurial initiatives are now being created here, and I would like to think that the event had some influence on this.
A landmark experience
In any case, the experience that the event gave us was a great lesson. The close contact into which we came with design professionals that we greatly respected as students gave us a chance to pick up many useful tips, and have some very interesting conversations when we went out with them for some beers after the event.
Also, we felt so empowered by realizing that we can make a difference that we are creating an association to continue to organize stuff. Next years event will be international, so if you feel like spending some days in south Spain talking, seeing and hearing design you can sign up to receive updates.
Additionally, since the event brought some of the best minds at uni together in the organizational team, and we have found that we can work very well together, we´re also starting a design firm.
None of this would have happened if we haven´t said “scr** the institution, lets bring whats missing ourselves”.
If you are frustrated at how design is taught around you, take the initiative to bring what you find is missing. Sure, it may mean sacrificing some study time, but I guarantee that the experience will be well worth it.
If you are already an established professional, has there been a particular talk that has influenced your career path? And if you are a student, is there something in particular you are missing in your education? Share your thoughts in the comment section.
About the author: Pablo Rohrssen is an Industrial Design Engineer who studied mostly in Spain. He runs a (spanish) website on sustainable design, was one of the organizers of the event described in this article and is co-founder of Zebro Design Services.