Design writer and curator Max Fraser shares a personal summary of a workshop merging the seemingly distanced worlds of design and science
All Change: Design and Science in a time of Crisis
On 28th March 2022, designers and scientists left their studios and laboratories for an afternoon and headed to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London for “All Change: Design and Science in a time of Crisis”. The event was masterminded by Tom Lloyd, Master of the Faculty of Royal Designers for Industry (RDI) and Chris Wise, Commissioner of the 1851 Royal Commission who were keen to merge a curated list of individuals from the seemingly distanced worlds of design and science for an “intentional collision of cultures”. Fifty bright minds from college age upwards gathered for a series of provocations and conversations, with the aim of tickling imaginations and inviting collaborations.
Plunged into a group of strangers is daunting but a few familiar faces eased the group into the four hours that lay ahead. Apart from a few stereotypical sartorial clues, it wasn’t obvious who was a scientist and who was a designer. As the group converged, a few hurried introductions, polite smiles and side-glances preceded introductions from Lloyd and Wise.
The meeting was aimed at addressing the time we live in, one rattled by jeopardy and anxiety. As most of us pondered why they had been summoned to this stately venue and grappled with the likelihood that the person next to them was considerably smarter, Tom Lloyd kicked things off by reinforcing the need for collective thinking and collaboration by questioning, “how could we thrive in each other’s company?”, backed up by Chris Wise asking if we could “inspire exponentially.”
As the global population seemingly pivots from one crisis to another, perhaps innovation could thrive on this instability through a “new currency of shared focus, urgent timescales, the need for scale, repurposing resources, greater tolerance of failure and openness for collaboration”. Maybe, just maybe, this gathering could “rupture the assumptions on which everyday life proceeds and so create a doorway into a different kind of world, one in which people can improvise solutions inspired by generosity and empathy, goodwill and common endeavour, resilience and resourcefulness often lacking in normal times.”
Hosted in the magnificent Raphael Gallery, participants sat on a vast circular bench next to people they’d never met before, the layout devoid of a stage and wholly democratic. This levelling between participants liberated us of our individual professional labels and instead focused minds on our lofty yet worthwhile quest to somehow improve life for all on this planet.
Motivation under such circumstances can polarise between egotistical jostling and communal betterment yet there was an unsaid assumption that the latter should and would prevail, our minds set to imagine the world we should collectively sculpt beyond the horizon of our own lifetimes.
Could we, just could we, make a dent in this seemingly never-ending uphill challenge?