Slow Design Innovation

This exhibition was built based on the research conducted by the INCITE group, particularly the emerging research focused on slow design-driven innovation in transitional economies

Photograph by Nic Shonfeld for Kilomet 109

The INCITE research group focuses on design, innovation and creativity in economies that are transitioning to creative economies. INCITE research design, innovation and creativity to revitals underdeveloped areas, and how communities are innovatively reacting to unfavourable conditions by creating economic, social and cultural values. Their research on slow design challenges the current models of production and distribution that have stimulated a culture of overconsumption. This culture is not sustainable and it has contributed to climate change, biodiversity loss, natural resource degradation, ethical issues, poverty, waste, excessive and inefficient energy use and increased the vulnerability of many Developing Nations communities in which the globalised products are manufactured. INCITE believes measures must be taken, slow design-driven innovation answers this challenge and are investigating new business models at the time of the Anthropocene.

Slow Design Innovation:

Condensed abstracts from the research that initiated the participation at the London Design Biennale

The following excerpts have been extracted and edited from papers written by Dr Marta Gasparin and supported by Dr William Green and Dr Christophe Shinckus alongside contributions from Dr Martin Quinn and Dr Steve Conway.

What is Slow Design Innovation?

Slow Design Innovation responds to our failing globalised models of production and distribution, that have resulted in a culture of overconsumption, an economic system that is not sustainable, and, of grave concern, is anthropogenically endangering planetary sustainability. The current system is responsible for climate change, biodiversity loss, natural resource degradation, ethical issues, and increased vulnerability of many developing communities. Recent works on business model innovation, ecosystems and platforms have underlined the variety of configurations, roles and strategic positioning in contemporary industry but also the need for ecosystems to evolve to address contemporary common threats such as climate change and environmental issues. 

What impact can Slow Design have?

As a response to the failure of these current global systems INCITE have conducted ethnographic studies among designers in Vietnam to understand their design processes and Slow Design Innovation proposes an alternative economic system which responds to current practices that negatively impact on environment and society. Building on design theories, we consider a new approach to innovation. The aim of Slow Design Innovation is to have a process that produces high-quality new products and services and at the same time  reduces the exploitation of natural and human resources, celebrates their value, and increases the lifespan of products based on quality and local traditions, which confronts the current paradigm of “more and cheaper is better”.

Slow Design - Organising nature

through technologies of craft

The role of cutting edge, hi-tech innovations in organisations is a common topic for research. Alongside this there has been a more muted development of writing on the role of mundane material things in ordinary, everyday and pervasive forms of organising. INCITE’s research argues that these mundane matters are increasingly central to concerns over sustainability and they have been central to our ethnographic research in Vietnam. Here craft and its mundane technologies play an important role in organising nature. With the significant and immediate threat posed by climate change as a pressing backdrop, INCITE’s research aims to investigate: how can the organisation of mundane material things and organisation through mundane material things change in order for nature to be organised? INCITE explores the mundane material things involved in craft work, set against the rapid destruction of nature in Vietnam.

The sustainable craft work that INCITE’s research explores, sits in the shadow of rapid and large scale transformation of the environment. Vietnam is interesting because it operates as a nexus for rapid change and questions of sustainability that emerge through concerns for development-at-speed. Not only a location for traditional, sustainable, craft enterprises. This nexus of change, destruction and sustainability provides a coherent geographical location for witnessing struggles over mundane and pervasive material things that raise startling questions for the future of the planet.  

Amongst this rapid transformation craft skills are re-emerging as a way to define identity, culture and aspiration. What is required to sustain craft, and to sustain the environmental practices are different means to organise nature. Distribution of smaller scale needs to take shape, designers researched think that this can be achieved by taking traditional Vietnamese craft work to the world. The designers must act as pioneers of sustainability and use careful agricultural practices, craft skills, and small scale production to recruit new audiences; to go and talk about, write about, set demands for and make orders for craft workers’ produce. They must take the nature of craft work to the world. This is not a marketing gimmick, an empty gesture to reassure the environmental concerns of mass consumers. The craft skills and tools are reliable material witnesses, carrying with them and speaking of their natural location, their Vietnamese roots. The nature they represent (of sustainable craft work and its careful agriculture) has been re-organised: it now begins to operate in new locations, among new audiences on a global stage. The scales begin to tip somewhat, their balance shifts, in place of the demarcation between the global flows of capital that underpin the rapid and huge material saturation of the environment through tourism on one side and the small, mundane, local, marginalised craft workers on the other, a new demarcation is appearing. On the one side, traditional craft as representative of a sustainable future in which we all ought to have a stake – with new supporters recruited among journalists and designers - and on the other, a rampant and irresponsible capitalism that we ought to avoid. The designers, the craft workers, their tools and their process are making moves. They are shifting cosmopolitics through their re-organisation of nature.     

These photographs were taken by Claire Driscoll on a research trip organised by Thảo Vũ to observe the indigo making process and techniques practised by the Nùng An women she works with in Cao Bằng

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