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Artists, academics and engineers from across disciplines will come together on College Hill this weekend to discuss the role of design in sparking social change.

Panelists from around the world will discuss creative solutions to sustainable agriculture, architecture in the developing world and the future of transportation at the second annual conference organized by Brown and Rhode Island School of Design students.

Titled "A Better World by Design," the event was first organized last year by Steve Daniels '10, Sharon Langevin '09 GS and two RISD students from the class of 2009, Tino Chow and Mike Eng, as a "one-time event."

"One of the things that really impressed me was the range of the people that were brought in," said Kurt Teichert, a lecturer in environmental studies who attended part of last year's conference. Teichert also praised the "broad concept of design" around which the event was structured.

Willem Van Lancker, a RISD senior and one of the chief organizers of this year's conference, said society's definition of design needs to be more holistic.

"The future of design does not lie in physical objects, but rather (in) the experience and transformation of designing communities," he said.

Christopher Bull, a senior research engineer and senior lecturer at Brown who moderated a panel at last year's conference, said "numbers are up" in registration and there is a "different cast of characters" from last year's conference, but the overarching idea remains the same. Bull will moderate a panel this year about "appropriate technology," or how simple technology can improve the lives of the poor worldwide.

The speakers this weekend include architects, designers, engineers, CEOs, a former Brazilian governor and professors from RISD, Johns Hopkins University, Carnegie Mellon University and California College of Arts.

The keynote address will be delivered today at 2 p.m. by Jan Chipchase, former principal engineer of the Nokia Research Center. He is scheduled to talk about his research on the use of mobile technologies to connect people in an "ever-fragmented world." The Finland-based Nokia Corporation is the world's largest provider of mobile phones, a technology fast becoming central to development.

On Saturday, the conference will host a "one-hour design challenge," in which participants will work together to generate a solution to an important problem. The event will be co-sponsored by Core77, an industrial design blog.

Closing the conference will be RISD President John Maeda, a world-renowned graphic designer, artist and computer scientist who writes about simplicity and the digital age. Van Lancker said Maeda, in his first year as president, was a proponent of students' activism and involvement in bringing about social change.

Though the highlights of the conference may be the international speakers and the wide array of disciplines represented, Van Lancker said "it hits at something much larger than that." The real importance of the conference lies in the collaboration between the Brown, RISD and Providence communities, he said.

According to Ambika Roos '11, a member of the conference's organizing committee, the event was not only planned by Brown and RISD students, it was largely financed by money students raised themselves. "A lot of people talk about collaboration, but we're really doing it," Roos said.

Bull said he hoped the energy of last year's conference would be matched by this weekend's event. "If we can meet or beat that level, it would be a huge success," he said.


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