University News

ABWxD inspires change by innovation

Tech and design interact at A Better World by Design conference’s lectures and workshops

By
Staff Writer
Monday, September 22, 2014
The seventh annual A Better World by Design conference proposed technology- and design-related solutions to real-world problems, such as revitalizing public spaces and the significance of American-made products.

The seventh annual A Better World by Design conference proposed technology- and design-related solutions to real-world problems, such as revitalizing public spaces and the significance of American-made products.

Colorful balloons dotted campus this weekend, guiding participants in the seventh annual A Better World by Design, a three-day conference at Brown and the Rhode Island School of Design that aims to bring together those interested in making an influence on the world.

Known for short as “ABWxD,” the conference drew 817 volunteers and presenters, said Anna Plumlee ’15, chair of the conference’s planning committee.

According to A Better World by Design’s website, the conference “is an immersive experience that deepens our understanding of the power of design, technology and enterprise to engage our communities and sustain our environment.”

The conference encompassed many fields of study and included a host of lectures, panels, workshops, exhibitions, tours and social events. Most of the attendees were recent graduates or professionals looking to change career paths, Plumlee said.

Lisa Absher, creative director of the advertising and design firm Absher Design Group, flew from Florida to attend the conference, hoping to find inspiration to start a design project with a positive social impact. “I want to bring something from this conference back to my community,” she said.

The attendees were not limited to those interested in working in design and technology. Katharina Goetzeler ’16, an economics and philosophy concentrator, attended the conference because she was interested in the broad applications of design. “Design is finding new ways of looking at old problems,” she said.

This year’s conference differed from those of the two previous years because the planning committee “embraced a fresh and energetic vibe, staying away from the traditional way of doing a conference,” Plumlee said. This approach led to the installation of an inflatable lounge in front of the Perry and Marty Granoff Center for the Creative Arts and the introduction of more alternative content, such as documentary screenings and mini-exhibits, she added.

The theme of this year’s conference was “Wayfinding,” which the conference’s program described as “developing and reading signs, navigating new terrain and processing the unfamiliar.” The presenters who explored this theme hailed from many different states and countries, including Canada and the Netherlands, according to the program.

Melissa Mongiat and Eva Schinding, two presenters from Canada, gave a talk about a design studio that Mongiat co-founded called Daily tous les jours. In their lecture, they discussed the meaning of public spaces and how design can influence the collective experience.

Mongiat and Schinding highlighted their work on a project called “21 Swings,” which installs swings in public spaces. These swings play music notes corresponding to how high individuals swing and reward collaboration, since when individuals synchronize their swinging, a melody rather than a single note plays, Schinding said. The swings successfully bring people to the space and enable new relationships to form between neighbors, Mongiat said.

A panel called “Made in America” investigated the benefits and challenges of making products in the United States. The presenters discussed whether producing in this country is a trend or whether it is becoming popular for intellectual property reasons.

Matt Cavallaro, owner and principal of Nest Homeware, a home goods company in Providence, said in his presentation at the panel that producing in America has allowed him “to tell a story that is honest about the product.”

Rachel Haberstroh ’15, the conference’s public relations coordinator, said she thinks other talks and lectures at Brown and RISD often have little impact on attendees’ future. “But my experience at ABWxD made me want to go out and do something,” she said.