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What Design Can Do? PROMISES

Timo de Rijk’s extreme position on the “Mine Kaffon” was the core issue raised during one of the breakout sessions during What Design Can Do today.  Is social design real and if so how should it be criticized?

By Gabrielle Kennedy / 16-05-2013

A panel discussion between Timo de Rijk, David Kester, and Jan Konings resulted in an interesting breakout session during today’s What Design Can Do conference.  The session was moderated by Tim Vermeulen.

The prevailing opinion amongst top design critics seems to be that design can be measured as good or bad depending on how it tackles current problems.

That puts a lot of pressure on designer’s shoulders – arguably too much.

Timo de Rijk recently made headlines with his harsh criticism of irresponsible design – design that purports to be much more than it is.

His target was “Mine Kaffon” the contraption designed by Design Academy Eindhoven graduate Massoud Hassani.

“Mine Kaffon is not about solving problems,” De Rijk said.  "It is about success in the media and the museum world, and I think we really need to ask what sort of success that is. It also makes me wonder: what sort of designers are we advocating?”

De Rijk’s position on this object exceeds simple criticism.  He is angry.

“This is life-threatening design,” De Rijk continues, “because it can not solve a problem.  It does not work and it can never work.”

The discussion then switched to design education and if it can be blamed for any of this.

“In an academic world one should be able to experiment on topics that are not necessarily interesting or even make sense,” said Jan Konings.  

Konings agrees that something did go wrong in education for a while and there were too many narcissistic graduation projects.  He already senses that that has changed though.  “I see most students now really looking for solutions to everyday problems,” he said.

Kester added that with any graduation project it comes down to expectations.  He is not as adamant re “Mine Kaffon” as De Rijk, but admitted that if an object is presented by the school,  by the designer and by the media as something that can work, then there should at least be a possibility.  “It is about honesty,” he said.

The topic then switched to design education and what is needed.  De Rijk points the finger at research.  Again referring back to “Mine Kaffon” he says to really tackle the problem, students must delve deeper into the mine situation and its impact on Afghanistanis.  

Kester in perhaps the most relevant point of the day argued that good research depends on whether or not there is a multidisciplinary approach.  “When you have exclusive design-centric research, the likelihood is that you will have a lower quality result and when design interacts with other disciplines like science and engineering you will have better results.”

And most importantly, design has to be in synch with society – able to connect and respond to its biggest needs.

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