Beyond Change

Beyond Change:
Questioning the role of design in times of global transformations
Swiss Design Network Summit
March 8–10, 2018
FHNW Academy of Art and Design Basel


Current discourse in design research, art, cultural studies, media studies, philosophy, and the social sciences is dominated by the much-debated concept of the “Anthropocene,” which claims that we are entering a new geological age determined primarily by the effects of human activity on the planet. It has been used to increase awareness of the negative influence of our actions on climate and the environment, and thus on the terms and conditions of our long-term survival. Against the backdrop of ongoing catastrophe and normalised crisis, the image of designers as problem-solvers and shapers of material-visual culture is constantly evoked. Designers are expected to come to the rescue and to draft speculative scenarios, construct artificial worlds, and develop smart solutions. In short: design is wielded as a catalyst for global change.

But isn’t this image of the designer as an omnipotent problem-solver itself problematic? What if design is not the solution, but very much complicit in the problems it wants to solve? At this point, we feel compelled to ask: How can design truly contribute to a more just society and sustainable forms of living without compromising bottom-up initiatives and marginalising the voices of those who are most directly affected?

Our conviction is: Design cannot change anything before it changes itself. The conference “Beyond Change: Questioning the role of design in times of global transformation” is a critical response to the tendency of seeing global crisis first and foremost as a worldwide design competition. How can we reimagine design as an unbounded, queer, and unfinished practice that approaches the world from within instead of claiming an elevated position? How, for once, can we see design as a situated practice instead of turning it into the Global North’s escape and problem-solving strategy? How can we think about one world without falling into planetary-scale thinking and the idea that resilience is our only hope?

Download the full call for papers and projects here.


Keynote speakers: Beatriz Colomina, Kenny Cupers, Cheryl Buckley, Kjetil Fallan, Mia Charlene White, Ramia Mazé.

Beatriz Colomina
Are We Human?

In this talk, Beatriz Colomina will present the books and curatorial concepts of the 3rd Istanbul Design Biennial, which she directed with Mark Wigley in 2016. As their manifesto for the Biennial argued: “We live in a time when everything is designed, from our carefully crafted individual looks and online identities, to the surrounding galaxies of personal devices, new materials, interfaces, networks, systems, infrastructures, data, chemicals, organisms, and genetic codes. […] There is no longer an outside to the world of design. Design has become the world. The default concept of ‘good design’ […] is no longer adequate. It is an anaesthetic that has worn off. The urgent question is What is design after design?

Beatriz Colomina is Professor in History and Theory of Architecture and Director of the Program in Media and Modernity at Princeton University

Kenny Cupers
The Earth that Modernism Built

This lecture explores the roots of the modernist project – both heroic and tragic – to design the human by reshaping the environment, from the domestic sphere to the earth at large. It examines how statesmen, scientists, and designers mapped ethnicity onto territory and biology onto architecture, and in doing so, conceived of the human environment as an object of design. This entangled history of modernity demonstrates how novel ways of thinking about and intervening in the human environment were bound up with natural science and the colonial project, asking us to reconsider long-held assumptions of humanity’s relationship to the earth.

Kenny Cupers is Professor of History and Theory of Architecture and Urbanism, and Head of Urban Studies at the University of Basel

Kjetil Fallan
And After Us…: Robert Esdaile and the Emergence of Ecological Design

Making it his life’s mission to reform design practice and education according to ecological principles, Canadian-Norwegian architect Robert Esdaile and his concern for what comes “after us” represents an early, sustained effort to bring an ecological, or ecologically informed, critique to bear on design, its practices and ideologies. Tracing Esdaile’s work leads us along one of many trails through the extensive and dense Norwegian wood(s), exemplifying how ecological design grew from many and different roots.

Kjetil Fallan is Professor of Design History at the University of Oslo

Mia Charlene White
More information coming soon.

Mia Charlene White is Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies at The New School

Cheryl Buckley
On the Record: Researching Women and Design

Over 30 years ago, women’s relationship to design prompted a process of critical questioning that is still ongoing. An important context for this was second-wave feminism and by proposing that ‘the personal is political’, feminist theorists highlighted the important role that culture played in locating women within patriarchy. Insisting that design is a vital part of everyday life that has shaped our gendered identities, this paper considers to what extent and how design historians have remained attentive to this.

Cheryl Buckley is Professor of Fashion and Design History at the University of Brighton

Ramia Mazé
Feminist Modes and Politics of Design Practice

The development of the arts in higher education, research, and academia has surfaced vivid discussions for many decades, for example concerning the role of practice in theory-building and knowledge-making. Critical practices of design and “research through design” interrogate not only design but also the norms and forms of institutional structures that circumscribe design in academia. Feminist approaches, further, do not only question and oppose, but also project, activate, and enact alternatives. I will speak through examples of institutional critique and redirection within everyday design practice.

Ramia Mazé is Professor of New Frontiers in Design at Aalto University


22 sessions and workshops addressing topics such as: sustainability, commons, indigenous knowledges, artisanal design, the politics of objects, design and gender, and much more.

Speakers: Françoise Adler, Tanveer Ahmed, Olivier Arcioli, Leslie Atzmon, Krishna Balakrishnan, Kythzia Barrera, Mihir Bholey, Chioma Blaser, Tom Blaser, Gali Blay, Nadine Botha, Uta Brandes, Michaela Büsse, Sria Chatterjee, Lee Chichester, Benedetta Crippa, Paola De Martin, Pascal Glissmann, Jan Eckert, Brigitt Egloff, Larita Engelbrecht, Martina Fineder, Carlos Fiorentino, Judy Frater, Eyal Fried, Harald Gründl, David Hakaraia, Regine Halter, Weiling He, Kim Helmersen, Andreas Henrich, François Jonker, Selena Kimball, Amelie Klein, Lutz Kucher, Miriam Lahusen, Léopold Lambert, Francisco Laranjo, Peter Lang, Itay Laniado, Nashin Mahtani, Sarah May, Tania Messell, Diego Mier Y Teran, Romi Mikulinsky, Konstantin Mitrokhov, Tina Moor, Pedro Moraes, Nan O’Sullivan, Simon Penny, Rathna Ramanathan, Veronica Ranner, Luise Reitstätter, Susanne Ritzmann, Rebecca Ross, Florian Sametinger, Jan Silberberger, Audrey Speyer, Irene Stracuzzi, Ursula Tischner, Tina Tomovic, Etienne Turpin, Andreas Unteidig, Giuditta Vendrame, Kevin Walker, Arthur Woods, Sarit Youdelevich, and Christina Zimmermann.

Moderators: Jan Boelen and Vera Sacchetti, Johannes Bruder, Flavia Caviezel, Jan Eckert and Robert Lzicar, Meret Ernst, Felix Gerloff, Leonie Haesler, Rebekka Kiesewetter, Matylda Krzykowski, Shintaro Miyazaki, Sarah Owens and Yvonne Volkart.

A full program with all sessions will be published on January 22, 2018.


Building Platforms: An intersectional space for decolonising, depatriarchalising, and deprecarising the conference from within.

During the three days of the conference, the foyer of the HGK FHNW will be inhabited by three design platforms that each problematise the role of design from within the discipline itself: Decolonising Design Group, Depatriarchise Design, and Precarity Pilot. With the aim of fostering an intersectional debate on the politics of design within practice, theory, and academic research – with particular focus on race, ethnicity, gender, and class – the three platforms will collectively activate a given space – a single two-storey scaffold of the kind used in civil construction. In this temporary structure, the three initiatives are invited to present their practices while proposing modes of knowledge exchange beyond traditional academic conference formats. This will be accompanied by a pop-up library, containing selected books, magazines, articles, and other materials, as well a directory of similar platforms and initiatives from around the world, collected through an open call.

Decolonising Design Group was founded in 2016 by eight design researchers, artists, and activists stemming from or with ties to the Global South, as a response to Euro- and Anglocentric socio-technical politics and pedagogies of design as both a field of research and praxis. The group does not aim to offer an “alternative perspective” on design, but rather to question the very foundations upon which the discipline was established.

Depratriarchise Design is a platform that examines the complicity of design in the reproduction of oppressive systems, focusing predominantly on patriarchy, using intersectional feminist and postcolonial analysis. Depatriarchise Design questions the shape and the very definition of design as a discipline, as well as its priorities, politics, and agendas.

Precarity Pilot is a platform that wants to support designers in reshaping, reorienting, and taking ownership of the course of their working lives. In the context of a Europe of welfare cuts and unfair working conditions, the platform attempts to direct the efforts and everyday activities of designers towards constructing a different economic environment – both through what they produce and the ways in which they practice and live. Precarity Pilot is thus not primarily concerned with stabilising precarious design practices as they are, but rather with creating conditions in which it is possible for designers to imagine and actuate what they could become when not pressured by precariousness to conform to the needs of the market.

“Building Platforms” is open and free of charge.


Donna Haraway: Story Telling for Earthly Survival, a film by Fabrizio Terranova.

On Saturday, March 10, we will present Fabrizio Terranova’s portrait of Donna Haraway:

Over the last four decades, Donna Haraway has produced groundbreaking work in science, technology, gender and trans-species relationships, marked by a deep commitment to feminism and environmentalism. Haraway refuses to distinguish between humans and animals and machines but instead proposes new ways of understanding our world that challenge normative structures and boundaries. As a storyteller, Harraway is equally breaking with prevailing trends by embracing narrative techniques that paint a rebellious and hopeful universe filled with critters and trans-species. Brussels filmmaker Fabrizio Terranova spent several weeks with Donna Haraway and her dog Cayenne at their Southern California home. Exploring her personal universe and the longer development of Haraway’s views on kinship and planetary welfare, Terranova allowed Haraway to speak in her own environment, while also using green screen projections, archival materials, and fabulation that emphasize the playful and cerebral sensitivity of the scientist. The result is a rare, candid, intellectual, but also an eccentric portrait of a truly original thinker.


The FHNW Academy of Art and Design in Basel offers seven bachelor and four master degree courses in art, design, and art and design education and research. The school is located on the Campus of the Arts in the Basel Dreispitz area, close to several cultural institutions such as Kunsthaus Baselland, Schaulager, and the House of Electronic Arts.

FHNW Academy of Art and Design Basel
Hochschule für Gestaltung und Kunst
Freilager-Platz 1
4142 Münchenstein b. Basel

Getting to the FHNW Academy of Art and Design:

From Station SBB: Tram 11, to Aesch Dorf Stop: Freilager
From Basel DB (Badischer Bahnhof): Bus 36, to Schifflände; Stop: Dreispitz From Dreispitz Tram 11, to Aesch Dorf Stop: Freilager
From the Basel Airport: Bus 50, to Bahnhof SBB and from Bahnof SBB with Tram 11, to Aesch Dorf Stop: Freilager
Arriving by car: Take the A2 motorway, exit Basel-St. Jakob, and follow the sign for Dreispitz. From the Münchensteinerstrasse you can use Tor 13 in the Dreispitz area and park your car in one of the public parking garages, Ruchfeld or Leimgrube. If programming a navigation device, please note that the Freilager-Platz is located in the area of the municipality Münchenstein BL.


Swiss Design Network (SDN):
Since 2004, the Swiss Design Network has brought together the Swiss Universities of Design and Art, campaigning for recognition and support for design research at the highest international level. Up to today, SDN has organised nine internationally recognised conferences and has published their findings. Its tasks include supporting workshops and publications, promoting young talent, and maintaining contact and interaction between design researchers, institutions, universities, and institutes.

SDN Conference Chairs:
Dr. Massimo Botta, University of Applied Sciences and Arts of Southern Switzerland, SUPSI
Prof. Dr. Davide Fornari, Ecole Cantonale d’art de Lausanne, ECAL
Prof. Dr. Claudia Mareis, FHNW Academy of Art and Design, Basel
Isabel Rosa Müggler Zumstein, Lucerne School of Art and Design, HSLU
Prof. Dr. Sarah Owens, Zurich University of the Arts, ZHDK
Prof. Dr. Arne Scheuermann, Bern University of the Arts, BUA
Prof. Dr. Anne-Catherine Sutermeister, University of Art & Design Geneva, HEAD

Conference Host: FHNW Academy of Art and Design Basel
Coordination: Prof. Dr. Claudia Mareis, Nina Paim, and Sarah Haug
Program consulting: Vera Sacchetti
“Building Platforms” concept and organisation: Nina Paim and Julia Sommerfeld

Graphic design: Corinne Gisel and Nina Paim
with Haejeung Paik, Sunjung Park, Naz Naddaf, and Arianna Smaron
Typeface: Papanekst by Dinamo Typefaces
Website: Jakub Straka
Copy-editing: Phil Baber

Support: Indupro AG


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