World Design Summit 2017: Designing the World

World Design Summit 2017 in Montreal
Read the Design Declaration here

“Daily life is thoroughly designed. For designers, this statement is as flattering as it is problematic. It is flattering because it reflects design’s smashing success. It is problematic because designers’ role as innovators seems to be played out. They are disappearing as mediators in the networked society. When everyone is a designer and Dasein has become 100 percent design, the designer is everywhere and nowhere.”

Henk Oosterling

The role of design has changed dramatically over the past two centuries. Endless debates about the overlap of design with art and the social responsibility of designers have occurred. Dasein, as being-in-the-world is transforming as being-in-the-media. The media society is the new space in which we act, where Dasein is becoming design. Dasein is when we make decisions about form in order to liberate ourselves from the randomness of life. In other words, Dasein is making order out of chaos, which is the act of designing. Oosterling calls for a new form of design to emerge, relational design, which focuses more on relationships and responsibilities versus the individual.

First we shape the cities, then the cities shape us

Oosterling’s relational design ideology can be seen being manifested more and more in the fields of urban planning and architecture. It could be seen most strongly in my personal favorite talk of the whole summit delivered by Jan Gehl, the Danish architect. During his talk, he was self-effacing and humorous despite the magnitude of his accomplishments. He compared his approach to design as more “street level” than “bird’s eye view”.

Image borrowed from SoilCares

“The world is moving into a phase when landscape design may well be recognized as the most comprehensive of the arts. Man creates around him an environment that is a projection into nature of his abstract ideas. It is only in the present century that the collective landscape has emerged as a social necessity. We are promoting a landscape art on a scale never conceived of in history”

Geoffrey Jellicoe

Designing on a World-Scale as Gesamtkunstwerk

Speaking of designing for unprecedented scales, is designing the entire world the ultimate gesamtkunstwerk? The German word can be roughly translated as a total work of art. “After all, the loftiest thing design is capable of doing is creating a new world,” according to Oosterling. My next favourite speaker, Alex McDowell, presented his design process of world building through storytelling. Through his beautiful animated slides, McDowell illustrated how fictional futures can shape reality. I had just written an essay for school on how reality is mimicking fiction (post coming soon) so this talk was rather timely.

Image copyright Steven Spielberg

Designing for Meaning

“People are tired of innovation, and they’re waiting for meaningful objects. Things you get attached to.”

Hella Jongerius

Although I learned a lot from the previous keynotes, the talk that emotionally affected me the most did not come from any of the trendy virtual or augmented reality presentations, but from one of the smaller breakout sessions. Amir Berbic’s recreation of his father’s brand design for their Serbian refugee camp almost made me cry. It was a history lesson that I feel still resonates in today’s world. And it showcased great classic design work that stands the test of time.

Will Design fix the problems that Design caused?

“But must design save the world? Clearly, the very idea implies an arrogance equalled only in the banking sphere. One discipline cannot save the world.”

Henk Oosterling

Meeting other similar minded people like Vicki, Luisa and Jean-Philippe, made me feel quite optimistic about the success of the World Design Declaration that was signed. Good design facilitates meaningful experiences to be shared by people. Design is evolving as something more than just the enjoyment of certain individuals such as its creator.


1. Capps, K. (2013). “When Buildings Attack” New Yorker. Accessed from



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store