William Drenttel | Event-Aspen

Aspen Design Summit: Background

Introduction: Richard Grefé, Executive Director, AIGA

The International Design Conference in Aspen (IDCA) was launched more than 50 years ago, in a postwar era when the tragic consequences of man’s actions were still within view and the great opportunities for a new humanism just as evident. Walter Paepcke believed that the confluence of design, business and society offered the potential for an enlightened era of enterprise, with ramifications for the built as well as the imagined world.

During this past half century, the role of design — as an influence, a discipline, a profession — has become much more visible, even mainstream. Today, a new realization is emerging
among those exploring the progressive reach of design’s influence. Design itself is far less
important than the contribution of design thinking to solving complex problems.

Design’s achievements in beauty and function are legion. As the world becomes more aware of limitations than excesses, designers can help devise solutions to major social problems by bringing together their unusual talents for understanding real human needs and a systemic approach to creative problem-solving.

This is where the Aspen Design Summit comes in. It reflects the evolution of the IDCA to our times, in which our real challenges are those that affect the next generation, the billions on the bottom of the pyramid, and our common future.

The Summit is an experience in which every attendee contributes to solutions through workshops or studios focused on real global problems.

We want to thank you for joining us on what we hope will be a meaningful, productive course. We are confident that this experiment will be successful because you are with us in this endeavor.

Introduction: William Drenttel, Winterhouse Institute
A little over a year ago, twenty designers from around the world gathered to explore how the design profession could become more deeply engaged in promoting social change and innovation.

At the “Design for Social Impact” workshop at Bellagio, Italy, convened by the Rockefeller Foundation, we envisioned a larger gathering of designers working with NGOs, other foundations, businesses and experts to explore large problems and potential design approaches and initiatives. The challenge was to organize our design work for scale and impact, and how to generate concrete programs that were conceived expansively, defined concretely, and outlined for implementation and assessment of impact.

This Aspen Design Summit is one outcome of this initiative. The Rockefeller Foundation should be acknowledged for its vision and trust in this enterprise, and for providing significant funding to Winterhouse Institute to support this Aspen Design Summit. Our partnership with AIGA, of course, allows this to happen not only at Aspen, but in an historical context of design for social engagement.

We have curated projects that we hope will fulfill the potential of this larger gathering: issues around health care delivery, international experiences in the classroom, healthy aging, rural poverty, and how food systems impact the obesity epidemic.

With the talent and expertise assembled at this Summit, and with the commitment and energy of all participants, it is our great hope that we can generate programs and initiatives in which design solutions play a crucial role in bringing social change and innovation to as many people as possible.

Background: Aspen & Design
The 2009 Aspen Design Summit is an interdisciplinary, global workshop of designers, NGO decision makers, foundation and corporate leaders, social-design activists and experts who come together to design human-centered solutions to problems that challenge the quality of life. The projects undertaken at Aspen benefit real people who do not have the means to address impediments to human dignity and achievement, or they may directly impact the environment on which human activity depends.

This Summit is the result of collaboration between AIGA, the professional association for design, and Winterhouse Institute. Generous support, through a grant to Winterhouse Institute for design and social innovation initiatives, has been provided by Rockefeller Foundation.

Aspen and design have a long history together. Chicago industrialist Walter Paepcke founded the International Design Conference in Aspen more than fifty years ago. He and his wife Elizabeth envisioned Aspen as a place where leaders from throughout the world could gather to share ideas. Their vision was first realized in 1949 when the Goethe Bicentennial celebration attracted more than 2,000 people to Aspen to honor the 200th birthday of Goethe, the great German humanist. Albert Schweitzer opened the convocation.

In 1951, Paepcke established the International Design Conference in Aspen (IDCA) as an opportunity to bring together designers, artists, engineers, business and industry leaders. That first June, some 250 attendees and their families assembled for four days of presentations on the theory and practice of design. The title, “Design as a Function of Management,” was chosen to ensure the participation of the business community.

The IDCA, along with the Aspen Institute and the Aspen Music Festival and School, grew out of the Paepckes’ belief that Aspen provided an ideal environment for nurturing the whole human being. Isolated from the distractions of urban life and inspired by the abundant natural beauty of the Colorado Rockies, people could take advantage of Aspen’s recreational, intellectual and cultural resources. They would return home renewed in “body, mind and spirit,” a concept that has come to be known as “The Aspen Idea.”

Background: AIGA & Aspen
In 2004, the IDCA board recognized that its design conference had been so successful over the years in raising awareness of design and its role in business and society that many other similar conferences had been launched to advance this essential discourse. This led to a collaboration between the IDCA and AIGA.

As a result, it was decided that the pioneering spirit of the IDCA, in a 21st century form, would involve demonstrating the role of creativity in society’s response to the larger issues threatening humanity. The IDCA was transformed from a conference to a smaller summit, in which design thinking guided the integration of concerns and solutions, often presented in the context of broader forums of decision makers, like the Aspen Ideas Festival or the World Economic Forum, instead of in the form of a design conference.

The 2005 Aspen Design Summit was an opportunity to rethink the form and relevance of a design gathering in a world facing serious challenges. At the 2006 Aspen Design Summit, participants worked on problems in education, woman-empowerment in the third world, post-Katrina recycling efforts, water requirements in Africa, and sustainable development in urban America.

Meanwhile, a parallel track of engagement was established by forming the Aspen Design Challenge, a biennial call to students worldwide, inviting them to address an international problem that is not only crucial in today’s world, but critical to our survival and the world they will inherit. The Challenge is a joint project developed by AIGA and INDEX:, a Copenhagen-based nonprofit which focuses on design to improve social well-being. The goal was to engage the millennial generation in solving an emerging set of global issues.

The winner of the 2008–2009 INDEX: | AIGA Aspen Design Challenge, “Designing Water’s Future,” was Joanna Szczepanska from Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, selected for her urban gardening design, VeggiePatch. As the winner of the worldwide student design competition to address the global water crisis, Szczepanska received a $10,000 prize.

Background: Bellagio "Design for Social Impact" Workshop
“Design makes a difference,” is a phrase often heard in the private sector, which long ago recognized the ability of design to energize commercial success. But until recently design has been sorely lacking from the social sector, except for brief and isolated appearances, such as the One Laptop Per Child project, or the LifeStraw, a portable water purifier that looks like a giant straw.

Both of these projects, although small, received extensive publicity. But they are not enough. With this reality in mind, the Rockefeller Foundation hosted a group of leading design professionals in June 2008 at the Foundation’s Bellagio Center in Italy, to explore models for more active involvement between designers and the social sector.

For its part, the Rockefeller Foundation has taken a leading role in galvanizing this important and constructive, but uncoordinated, phenomenon: design as mode of innovation leading to social change. Through several initiatives, it has pursued the goal of bringing together design and the social sector.

These include experiments with the Rural Innovation Network in India, to create an incubation model to transform ideas into reality and spur local wealth creation through micro-enterprises. Another project, with the organization Positive Deviance, explored scaling up locally-based solutions. Both underscore the Foundation’s interest in and knowledge of the power of design for social innovation, especially in the work of alleviating poverty.

Several critical concepts emerged from the “Design for Social Impact Workshop” at Bellagio about what was needed to support a new way forward for design and social change. These included a design for social impact lab, which would combine an information hub, a skill and knowledge transfer mechanism, and metrics that help measure the validity of outputs. Another looked at how to create a bridge to bring together the world’s best designers with people and organizations that work on the world’s most important and complex problems.

A series of questions also emerged: how do we get the best designers working with the right NGOs towards solutions against large and critical problems? How can we get enough momentum and participation that collective action by the design community is possible and self-generating? Are there models or structures needed to create systematic engagement with the social sector?

At the end of the Bellagio workshop, participants made commitments for staying engaged with work around design and social innovation. William Drenttel, co-chair of the Aspen Design Summit and a principal of Winterhouse Institute, proposed connecting AIGA and committing the Aspen Design Summit to become a meeting place for this work.

The objective was to harness design creativity in areas where massive public sector efforts were attempted in the past. The power of this movement, though, would be amplified significantly with success-sharing mechanisms, documentation of best practices, matching of resources to needs, and promotion of the promise of design as one avenue to innovative solutions.

In January 2009, Winterhouse Institute began a two-year project, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, to develop collective action and collaboration for social impact across the design industry — and encompassing a range of other institutions that work on the needs of poor or vulnerable people.

The funding was directed to support the 2009 Aspen Design Summit; to developing case studies with the Yale School of Management; and to creating an editorial website, Change Observer, which launched in July 2009 and is part of the Design Observer Group, as a news and communications platform to monitor progress in the zone of design and innovation around social issues.

Background: AIGA
AIGA was founded in 1914 as the American Institute of Graphic Arts and remains the oldest and largest professional membership organization for design, with 64 chapters as well as leading international initiatives. It represents more than 22,000 design professionals, educators and students through national activities and local programs.

In 2005, the organization’s name was changed to “AIGA, the professional association for design,” reflecting the evolution of the profession from its earlier roots in the graphic arts. The goal of AIGA is to stimulate thinking about design, and to demonstrate its value. Its mission is to advance designing as a professional craft, strategic tool and vital cultural force. AIGA also speaks to external audiences about their roles as designers and the value of great design.

AIGA functions on many levels. It promotes and communicates standards for ethical conduct and professional expertise and in collecting and analyzing information about the profession. It develops programming on critical issues facing design and celebrates both effective and innovative design. Moreover, AIGA serves as a hub of thought-leadership and activity for the designing community.

Background: Winterhouse Institute
Winterhouse Institute was founded by William Drenttel and Jessica Helfand. It is focused on design-oriented social and political initiatives, as well as design education. In 2009-2010, its work is supported by a grant from Rockefeller Foundation in the zone of design and social innovation.

Previously, Winterhouse Institute, supported by AIGA, initiated the Polling Place Photo Project, a nationwide experiment in citizen journalism to capture democracy in action on Election Day, which included an archive of photographs taken by citizens at their polling places. During the 2008 election cycle, the project was run in partnership with The New York Times.

In collaboration with AIGA, Winterhouse Institute sponsors the Winterhouse Awards for Design Writing & Criticism, which seek to increase the understanding and appreciation of design, both within the profession and throughout American life. The $10,000 prize, as well as student awards, recognizes excellence in writing about design and encourages the development of new voices in design writing, commentary and criticism.

Winterhouse also publishes Design Observer, the leading site of writing, news and commentary about design and culture, design and social innovation, and urbanism and the public realm. The results of the Aspen Design Summit will be published on the Design Observer channel, Change Observer, edited by William Drenttel and Julie Lasky.

Summit Program
The Aspen Design Summit is a participatory event where 64 attendees work together to develop innovative contributions toward solving large-scale national and global problems with human-centered design solutions. The summit will include leaders from design, NGOs, business, social institutions and foundations.

In our opening session on Wednesday, we will introduce six large problems (rural healthcare delivery, international education, the needs of menstruating girls, rural poverty, healthy aging, and sustainable food and obesity). We will have short introductions by involved participants, as well as short outlines by studio moderators of the specific challenges we are undertaking.

Attendees will be assigned into small studios of 10 to 12 people to focus on these six specific initiatives. The studios will craft ways to address these problems and present their findings to the larger group. The fundamental goal of each studio is to develop a course that can be executed within 24 months to advance the challenges posed, including program definition and description; a business plan and funding requirements, and an implementation plan.

Studio work sessions will fill most of Thursday. In a moderated session on Friday morning, each studio will present to the Summit as a whole for feedback. Studio work will then continue on Friday afternoon.

A final discussion of each project, before the entire Summit, will happen on Saturday morning, where studios will present plans for concrete outcomes and actionable implementation.

Each studio will have a moderator and a recorder. The moderator is a peer participant who has agreed to guide the conversation. The recorder is a peer participant who will keep notes, help the team articulate its ideas for presentations, and summarize each studio’s work in a final written report.

For participants not previously exposed to work with designers, we are looking to our moderators to apply design processes or design thinking to the work at Aspen. We are not looking for specific design solutions — the specific design of the early childhood development kit, or the interior architecture of a rural poverty center in Greensboro, AL, or the typographic solution to a campaign for healthy aging. Rather we are looking for program development, using design processes and thinking, that outlines a concrete course of action by designers engaging with larger communities to generate projects of scale and impact.

A design process is a framework for problem solving that often leads to creative solutions. For the most part, designers follow a pattern of steps to define a problem, generating ideas and translating the ideas into value. Among designers, there is a relatively clear sense of the attributes of design thinking, although it is articulated in different ways by different practitioners. Its key characteristics involve refining the problem statement to include dimensions often overlooked by others; aiming for human-centered solutions, which often means early ethnographic research to better understand those effected by the problem and solutions; encouraging divergent thinking; crafting many approaches to address a problem before narrowing them; and rapid prototyping, to encourage risk in considering options. Convergence on a valid solution occurs after testing prototypes and then focusing on gaining the consensus necessary from all stakeholders in order to execute a solution that results in real progress.

We may only be able to do part of this work during our short time at Aspen, but it is our hope that we can craft and develop feasible and fundable programs of scale and impact that will help us reach the goal of implementation within 24 months. We will have incredible expertise on every team, so the process should be enjoyable, challenging and rewarding.

Summit Schedule
1:00 PM – 3:00 PM  Check-In, Meet and Greet
3:00 PM – 3:30 PM  Introductions, Ric Grefé and William Drenttel
3:30 PM – 5:30 PM  Project Presentations
5:30 PM – 6:30 PM  Studio Meetings
6:30 PM – 7:30 PM  Cocktails
7:30 PM – 9:30 PM  Summit Dinner
9:30 PM – 11:00 PM  After Dinner Meetings

7:30 AM – 8:30 AM  Breakfast and Impromtu Meetings
8:30 AM – 9:00 AM  Questions, Ric Grefé and William Drenttel
9:00 AM – 12:00 PM  Studio Meetings
12:00 PM – 1:00 PM  Summit Lunch
1:00 PM – 2:00 PM  NewDesign Foundation Presentation
2:00 PM – 2:30 PM  Questions, Ric Grefé and William Drenttel
2:30 PM – 5:30 PM  Studio Meetings
5:30 PM – 6:30 PM  Cocktails
6:30 PM – 9:30 PM  Free Time, Dinner in Town
9:30 PM – 11:00 PM  After Dinner Meetings

7:30 AM – 8:30 AM  Breakfast and Impromtu Meetings
8:30 AM – 11:30 AM  Interim Studio Reports, Larry Keeley, Moderator
11:30 AM – 12:00 PM  Discussion: Other Topics
12:00 PM – 3:00 PM  Free Time, Lunch
3:00 PM – 6:00 PM  Studio Meetings
6:00 PM – 6:30 PM  Transportation to Dinner
6:30 PM – 7:30 PM  Cocktails
7:30 PM – 9:30 PM  Summit Dinner
9:30 PM – 11:00 PM  After Dinner Meetings

7:30 AM – 8:30 AM  Breakfast and Impromtu Meetings
8:30 AM – 11:00 AM  Final Studio Reports
11:00 AM – 12:00 PM  Wrap-Up and Final Discussion

Comments [2]

The Aspen design summit is the best place to adress new design ideas and talk about problems encountered in the design process.

Nice that you came up with this cool stuff, this was something I am going to use it for my reference purpose. You have really shared a good deal of information, thank a lot.

Jobs | June 19