NYCxDesign 2019: WantedDesign Focuses on Sustainability and Social Responsibility

WantedDesign’s founders Odile Hainaut and Claire Pijoulat discuss why a platform for socially and environmentally responsible design is so important.

NYCxDesign 2019 WantedDesign Preview
Prison Blues is a job-training program partnering University of Oregon product design students with inmates affiliated with Oregon Corrections Enterprises to produce workwear (the sewing facility is shown). The line of unisex clothing will be on view and for sale at WantedDesign Brooklyn. Courtesy Tom Bonomici

Now in its eighth year, WantedDesign will examine the intersection of sustainability and social responsibility through its 2019 theme, “Conscious Design.” Come mid-May, design schools from around the world will exhibit student projects under this rubric at WantedDesign Brooklyn in Industry City, in the neighborhood of Sunset Park. Metropolis spoke to the fair’s founders Odile Hainaut and Claire Pijoulat about how the theme furthers WantedDesign’s long-standing mission of promoting emerging design talent.

Avinash Rajagopal: How did the theme “Conscious Design” come about?

Claire Pijoulat: Conscious design is something we implemented three years ago in our own guidelines for exhibitors. The first thing people see in our guidelines is in capital letters: “Our exhibitors are encouraged to have a zero-waste purpose in the way they are producing their exhibition.”

As an event organizer, if we can have a voice—even if it’s a little voice—we need to take the opportunity. We cannot really impose a theme on our participants, but we have a message we want to share. WantedDesign is an open platform for bringing people together from all over the world, from places as far apart as Guatemala and Egypt—countries that have never been part of a show like this in the United States. Climate change and all the [other] problems linked to the environment are global, and especially for the next generation of design students. We have to share what they are working on. Design schools have been a big part of WantedDesign since its start in 2011. This year we have nearly 30 schools participating, either as part of the exhibition or part of the design school workshop.

AR: So how are the schools engaging with the theme?

Odile Hainaut: The University of Oregon is showing the research and impact of a program that they did with incarcerated adults. Two universities [in] El Salvador are showing a small project with social impact. This year, interestingly, all those projects are thinking about design for communities outside their own.

This is the way the schools are evolving with their programs and curricula. Years ago, we received projects that were about chairs and tables; that was what the designer was trained to do. Now it’s not that anymore. Of course the students still have to be really good designers, but they have to think about what’s around them. What is the world we live in?

AR: How do you think visitors to WantedDesign will connect to these projects?

CP: New York should be—and is—a city that is super inspiring. But honestly, New York is too often about commerce and business, and not enough about sharing ideas and envisioning new scenarios. The design trade is coming to WantedDesign to discover things that they are not used to seeing during NYCxDESIGN. And the public also visits the exhibits—design lovers, kids, and so forth.

OH: Industry City is the perfect home and format for this type of project because you often can’t take the time to see [this kind of work] at a trade show. People come, they discover, they talk to the students, the kids ask questions. We have a program for local public schools where we design a tour of WantedDesign Brooklyn just for them. Then we have the younger kids draw their favorite projects. These are simple ways to help them connect with the work. I think we bring a very free spirit to the NYCxDESIGN audience. What you discover is not a chair or a bench—it’s something else.

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