The reForm Conference 2007

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Sponsored and organized by the Cultivate Centre and running as part of IDI Design Week, the reForm conference ran on Tuesday from two locations, the National College of Art and Design in Dublin and the University of Limerick. Responding to a growing interest among industrial designers in the idea of sustainable design, it represented an opportunity for Irish designers to hear about international best practice and to consider its ramifications from an Irish point of view. Having part of the conference outside Dublin was in keeping with a continuing trend within IDI Design Week of broadening out the locations for its events. Along with cinema screenings in Sligo and Letterkenny, design business seminars in Kilkenny and exhibitions in Cork, it forms part of an effort to include parts of the Irish design community working outside Dublin.

The highlight of the conference was a keynote by Italian designer Ezio Manzini, speaking over a video link from Italy. Manzini is the Director of the Design and Innovation Sustainability Research Unit at the Polytechnic of Milan and is at the forefront of attempts to rethink industrial design practice at a systemic level, concentrating on the aim of producing sustainable products in an everyday manner. His focus on the wider principles of sustainable design provided an appropriate focus for a day of discussions on how those principles could be implemented in an Irish context.

One of the most interesting other talks during the day was by Simon O’Rafferty from the Eco Design Centre in Wales. Set up by the Welsh Assembly in 2006, the Eco Design Centre is an unusual body, in that rather than simply being a governmental design consultancy and advisory service for companies along the lines of our own Kilkenny Design Centre in the 1970s, it also has a mandate to research into international best practice in eco design and to communicate its findings, both through promotion and education. This puts Simon and his colleagues in an excellent position in their dealings with companies, as they can draw confidently on this research when giving advice. This is particularly crucial when considering methods of product analysis such as carbon footprinting or cradle-to-cradle studies, which involve the analyzing the entire process of a companies operation, rather than just the contents of the finished product. A number of practical examples were discussed,
The inclusion of promotion and education into the structure of the Centre is central to the wider systemic vision which practitioners of sustainable or eco-design are aiming for.

The afternoon sessions took a slightly different format, as the group in Dublin was split into three workshops with different themes. This practical focus is unusual for conferences and fitted very well with the conference theme of ‘Tools of the Trade’. For example, Enda O’Dowd, who teaches materials and manufacturing technology on the Industrial Design course in NCAD, ran one workshop looking at practical strategies for use in a sustainable approach to product design. As there was a large attendance by design students at the conference, this type of workshop formed an interesting approach to facilitating designers who would like to develop their practice along these lines, whether student or professional.

Overall, the conference was a useful and practical look at a topical area of design practice, one that looks set to become more pressing in years to come.

Sorcha O’Brien

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