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CubaSpecial Event Report by Maggie Macnab

La Revoluti´┐Żn Interior

Notes on the Icograda World Design Congress 2007, La Habana, Cuba

Maggie Macnab

The last week of October I had the extraordinary experience of attending the Icograda International Design Congress in La Habana, Cuba. Over 600 designers, teachers and related professionals gathered from 57 countries to discuss the current state of design, how we teach and how we learn. Cross-pollinating ideas between peers always infuses creativity, but Cuba provided the unlikely backdrop of international connections within a communist country. There was no visual pollution from advertisements (although there was a minimal amount of political propaganda, it was nothing like what we Americans wade through every day), no storefronts other than a few bars, restaurants and hotels (no McDonalds, Starbucks, or Gap -- a very different experience for the majority of us regardless of country), and very little traffic because few can afford to buy and fuel a car. Minimal visual noise provided focus, and the radically different culture submerged us in non-linear thinking.

Cuban architectureThe most salient point I took away from the conference was how we, as creative solution seekers, might shift the current course of humanity. How we might design solutions broad enough for cross-cultural application and common enough to act as inspirational touchstones for anyone who wants to initiate and implement change. It was clear we were all there to learn from one another and explore how our thinking process might redefine and influence the direction of the current course. This is wayfinding on a global scale.

I couldn't attend every presentation because seeing Havana was also a priority, but I've included some of the highlights I came away with. The first two days of the conference covered design education. Carole Goodman, associate professor of graphic design at Queens College, City of the University of New York, discussed the importance of providing a culturally neutral curricula to allow students to explore their individual perspective of interpretation and expression. A spectrum of acceptability supports the individualism necessary to invent a personal range of motion, as well as to inspire the use of diverse solutions for personal and world issues.

Laura Chessin, whose background as a musician is integrated into her teaching ("print design should move through the frame with visual rhythm"), is in the graphic design department at Virginia Commonwealth University. Laura teaches with the Reggio Approach, in which students learn through experience rather than accumulating a storehouse of facts, a natural for minds whose job is to think expansively. This supports "pure intelligence," or the knowing that comes of intuitive immediacy. Being able to translate intuition into conscious action is an important skill for those of us who deliver creatively accessible solutions to staid problems.

Other topics included applying anthropological methodology to our perception of other cultures, sustainability as a collaborative approach to design, developing an international cross-cultural design educational model, and interdisciplinary relationships between anthropology, ethnology and design. These subjects came from educators spanning Australia, Brazil, Peru, Qatar, South Africa, France, Chile, Cuba, and the US and UK. The interest from these international design educators was clear: how to use our cultural diversities as a creatively unified strength to address real world problems.

The international conference

The international conference took up the next three days: designers -- well known and not so -- addressed their work within our profession, the world, and how the two might enact positive change. Some of those presentations included:

Paola Antonelli (US and Italy), Chief Curator for the Department of Architecture and Design at MoMA, was a keynote on the first day. She looked at the humanization of information and technology through design, from the rather odd use of the essence of departed loved ones to power your laptop, to commercial posters as art in a MoMA exhibition.

Shigeo Fukuda of Japan, known for decades as a poster designer with an optical illusion twist, showed slides of the impossible realized in three dimensions. Shigeo demonstrated that just by shifting perspective, the impossible is accomplished.

The Rwanda Healing Project, which I unfortunately missed, was a very moving presentation from everyone I spoke with about it. Alan Jacobson (US) helped develop this community-based two-year, multi-dimensional art project. It engaged survivors of the Rwanda 1994 genocide that left one million dead in one hundred days, the largest mass genocide in modern history. This was a real world example of design process being used to improve the human condition through education, healing, building leadership, and community.

Pablo Kunst of Argentina presented the ten principles of design, loosely based on the Ten Commandments. Most people (at least those tribes and cultures that have survived for any length of time) have recognized the necessity to restrain from our less desirable traits such as greed, wanton sexual encounters, and coveting our neighbor's goods. Pablo delivered his presentation on solid design principles with a balanced mix of humor and passion.

Index winnerIndex winnerLise Vejse Klint (Denmark), is program director of INDEX: Design to Improve Life (http://www.indexaward.dk ), a non-profit organization in Copenhagen that encourages awareness of the human and commercial potential in design to improve life. INDEX pursues this goal through the global network by giving the largest design purse award in the world (€100,000), presents international design exhibitions, hosts summits for world leaders on design and innovation, and publishes and distributes knowledge about Design to Improve Life. 2007 design winners included a high end, attractive electric car, a leg prosthetic for land mine blast victims at a cost anyone could afford, and a tongue sucker inspired by the 2005 London bombings in which many people died from choking on their own tongues before paramedics arrived on the scene. INDEX is creating real and useful solutions to problems by removing much of the r&d cost and time large for-profit corporations incur.

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Fight Mediocrity cover Maggie Macnab has been an identity designer for over 25 years and has been published in Communication Arts, Graphis, Step by Step, Print and and many hardback books on design. She has taught logo design and symbolism as visual literacy for designers for over ten years at the University of New Mexico, and is past president of the Communication Artists of New Mexico. Her new book, "Decoding Design: Understanding and Using Symbols in Visual Communication", is published by HOW Design Books and will be released worldwide in January 2008. It is available on Amazon.com.

...and you must NOT miss her "Symbol Maker Logos and Symbols applied to products" website, in itself is an education in logo and symbol design... symbolmaker.com
      She has developed a visual literacy resource with a focus on the origin, development and appropriate use of symbols in visual communication (www.eyeku.com) to enhance advertising by creating more value with effective graphics.

See Maggie's previous article: The Apple Core vs. Linear Logic This article appears in DTG Magazine with permission, Copyright ©2007, Maggie Macnab

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