Redesigned design conference debuts
June 20, 2006
The revamped International Design Conference at Aspen is a far cry from the event that used to mark the beginning of Aspen’s summer of culture and music.But organizers are hoping the Aspen Design Summit will gain the kind of popularity that the old conference enjoyed, with droves of volunteers and local attendees crowding the Aspen Institute campus for several days in early to mid-June.The Aspen Design Summit – a reconstituted, redefined, renamed and rescheduled International Design Conference at Aspen – opened quietly Tuesday at the Aspen Institute campus, offering a venue for hundreds of designers and thinkers to come up with solutions to critical world problems.The target goal of the conference: to tackle certain broad “challenges” facing the world today and come up with a solution to one of them.”We’re trying to redefine, like, the definition of ‘design,'” said Alissa Walker of AIGA, the international design organization in charge of the summit. Rather than merely discussing big ideas and new approaches to old problems, she said, participants will be working on practical solutions to certain problems.
Over the next couple of days, using established steps known as the “design process,” teams of designers, educators, social reformers and others will convene in teams to consider challenges in three areas: Educational innovation, in which participants will try to imagine ways to improve educational opportunities for the general public. Sustainable community development, directed specifically at urban poverty, hunger, blight and lack of housing. Social entrepreneurship, figuring out ways to increase the productivity and incomes of the world’s poor through market strategies, and innovative design and manufacturing techniques. Friday, at the end of the conference, participants will gather to consider the solutions generated in each of the three subject areas and pick the one they view as most attainable.
That solution will then become the “Aspen Action” item for the coming year, Walker said, adding that “whatever resources we would need to put behind it … they [AIGA] are dedicated to do it for the next year.”Whichever two challenge areas remain, she said, would become part of next year’s program, with the summit’s organizing committee adding a third.This is the first year for the Aspen Design Summit, which Richard Grefé, executive director of AIGA, has called “the evolution of the IDCA to the 21st century.”Walter Paepcke, the patriarch of Aspen’s rebirth from a moribund mining ghost town, started the International Design Conference at Aspen 55 years ago. He brought together a collection of thinkers and innovators in design, business and social sciences to consider the effects of design – architecture, art, industrial and other forms – on the world at large and on everyday life. The event attracted a wide range of national and international celebrities, as well as scores of attendees from around the globe and here in the valley.But several years ago, according to one-time Chairwoman Merrill Ford, the conference moved to the fall to avoid scheduling conflicts with the annual Food & Wine Classic in June. Fewer people attended, she said, and organizers revamped the event and merged with AIGA.
Ford said the Aspen Design Summit doesn’t compete with the Jazz Aspen Snowmass musical concert series, which starts this week.”It’s a whole different scene,” she said.A veteran of previous conferences, Ford said the new format is more appealing to modern designers, who are not interested in merely talking about issues but want to do something more concrete.Plus, she said, it’s more team-oriented.Tuesday’s opening session consisted of talks by experts in the three challenge fields, along with promises of a lot of hard work for participants today and Thursday.John Colson’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org