Different by Design

Different by Design
A research project by Cornelia and Holger Lund

Giving a critical twist to the historical Studebaker slogan from the 1960s era of styling, the project “Different by Design” asks if and how design can make a difference – not in reference to color and shape, but in reference to society. While it is by no means completely original, this question has gained some moment in the light of recent developments in design: lately, design approaches that want to change—or even save—the world have been in great demand. From social design to transformation design, transition design, and design thinking, to name just a few. The inherent assertion of their ability to induce transformation leads to the crucial question what power design has and what this power should be used for.
Taking this situation as a starting point, “Different by Design” engages in a critical review of these approaches and their translation into practical projects, analyzing them against a broader backdrop of theories that can be deemed especially relevant for design considerations in a (post-)globalized world, such as the Anthropocene, or post- and decolonial theories.

Africa, especially the sub-Saharan part of the continent, seems to be one of the preferred objects to be saved by the Western world. International aid programs and projects echo the still widely spread image of a poor continent heavily afflicted by war, corruption, hunger, and disease, unable to help itself. “Poverty porn” is the term used in the Ghanaian web-series An African City to describe this image mainly constructed in the Western world in the context of the international aid industry.
Even if concepts of (Western) international aid have changed over the last decades, they still bear the reflects of unequal political and economic power relations and the north-south divide as long-term consequences of colonial structures—and of the corresponding discourses. This discursive framework often leads designers to apply their Western design approaches in an eager attempt to help, without even asking what the cultural context is they are working in, or if “Africa” wants and needs to be saved. And more importantly: local solutions and specialists tend to be ignored. By analyzing on the hand examples of how the above-mentioned design concepts are put into practice in sub-Saharan Africa in a context of international aid and by observing on the other hand local design developments, “Different by Design” wants to contribute to establish a dialog and to help decolonizing the design field, still very much dominated by Western design discourses.

“Different by Design” has no fixed structural framework, it takes place in different formats and places. So far it has taken the shape of, amongst others,
- a research trip to Dakar in February 2016
- a seminar in design theory by Cornelia Lund with guests from theory and practice at the Hamburg University of Applied Sciences in autumn/winter 2016/2017
- a contribution to the conference Design Dispersed. On forms of Flight and Migration in Munich in February 2017 by Cornelia and Holger Lund, entitled “Different by Design – migration twisting”