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aspen design summit

Aspen Wrap Up…Kinda

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In our coverage of the Aspen Design Summit, we last left off with the three-minute presentations given by each studio group, promising a succinct report after the town meeting on Friday morning.

But as these things often go, choosing one Aspen Action item (moving forward in the next year) and one Aspen Challenge item (the subject of the 2007 Summit and student work throughout the year) was not as easy as Summit planners planned. This, as far as we can tell, is a good thing. More details to come.

However, in lieu of a definitive statement, we have two sides to the story: Core77′s conclusion and an article from, like, the Aspen Times. We also found tons of photos posted to Flickr.

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John Thackara Opens Doors For Us

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While final reports are still trickling in from the Aspen Design Summit, we must pause for a moment to say that we now stay up at night praying that all design conferences are moderated by John Thackara. Despite a small misunderstanding with the altitude, Thackara was a gracious, engaged host, with such a well-crafted, sharp, pay-attention-or-you’ll-miss-it wit, it ran like footnotes beneath his intelligent commentary. Maybe it’s because we were prepared to love him because we were so in awe of his work in the Doors of Perception conferences, but all in all: Thackara rules.

You might know Thackara from his recent book In the Bubble: Designing In A Complex World, which was named a 2005 must-read for anyone who wants to make the transition from designing stuff to designing ideas. Learn more (about the work and the wit) in his interview with himself.

Art Center and the UN Get Moving

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Shamina de Gonzaga, NGO advisor for the UN, and Gala Narezo, NGO rep for Art Center, travel the world as co-curators of the ongoing exhibition “what moves you?”, a collaboration that captures individual reactions to the UN’s global goals. The two women presented their work to a captivated audience at the Aspen Design Summit.

The installation features portraits and interviews of real people commenting on the rather lofty Millennium Development Goals named by the United Nations last year. They aim to show “how the private sector and civil society can impact policy at national and international levels and engage in innovative collaborations to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.”

As far as we can find, no website exists for this project–yet. But keep an eye out for the exhibition when it comes to you, and look for Aspen Design Summit participants: de Gonzaga and Narezo scoped attendees’ work and gathered material for future editions of the show. Read more about Art Center’s impressive NGO initiatives here.

High Altitude Expectations

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Day three of the Aspen Design Summit found the brain trust buzzing with energy (no doubt due to the brain food of the night before), as the studio groups scurried to prepare their three-minute presentations. You can read more about the challenges issued to participants here. Of note:

Two of the three Educational Innovation presentations were strong and implementable. The first group presented the Design Lunchbox, a series of design-based activities to help students manufacture their school experience. The group lead by Marc Ecko sent him as their spokesperson, and in his signature keyed-up demeanor, stormed the stage with Big Fat F, their proposed campaign to use “outrage” about the state of schools to inspire action.

In Sustainable Community Development, a community Tool Shed was proposed to provide a center where citizens could go to help improve their community’s infrastructure. And YOU Orleans, a program that would repurpose materials damaged by Katrina into New Orleans-specific products, took participants outside to a chalked theater-in-the-round for one of the most memorable and inventive presentations.

Social Enterpreneurship broke into six small groups, which all seemed to focus on two major themes: to bring technology to developing nations (light, electronics, an odd presentation with Ann Willoughby entering on a bike, sans squab heads), or to bring design resources to the organizations already active in those countries. The big idea for multiple presentations focused on creating a clearinghouse where designers and students could be matched with organizations or causes that needed their help. This seemed to be an ideal action item based on the presenters’ model; the relationship between IDE and Stanford’s D-School.

A matching program also feels like a unique service that the Aspen Design Summit could provide–imagine if leaders from non-profits, NGOs, fundraisers, foundations could come to Aspen every year knowing that the greatest designers and design thinkers would be there to connect with?

Photo courtesy of Core77, who once again has great coverage of day three.

Lost In, Like, “Translation”

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Occasionally we like to point out how funny design articles are when they’re written by someone who doesn’t understand design. But even more occasionally, we’re the ones who get interviewed for such articles. And this time, it’s not quite so funny. Our friends at the Aspen Times compiled this choice comment from our chat yesterday:

“We’re trying to redefine, like, the definition of ‘design,’” said Alissa Walker of AIGA, the international design organization in charge of the summit.

Like, totally! To the max! And how exactly will we do this?

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…

Ah, the mysterious “design process”–sounds, like, totally deep! We’re no Britney, but we’re “sure” that the Aspen community is “super psyched” to know that “design” is safe in the hands of, like, Valley Girls.

An Intelligent Design Dinner

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Last night’s Darwin Dinner (not the Darwin Awards, mind you) at the Aspen Design Summit was a delicious respite and somewhat needed escape from the head-wall banging of heavy concepts peppered with global, social, sustainable, etc.

The four course meal was coordinated by the lovely Peter Hoffman, chef from NYC’s Savoy, and Niles Eldredge, master storyteller and resident Darwin expert, who lead us on a journey through Darwin’s travels in South America (he accidentally ate the species he was trying to find) and the evolution of dining (raw to grilled to cured to steamed). Eldredge told stories from Darwin’s journals while Hoffman explained the menu–which to the delight and disgust of our tablemates included whole roasted squabs, heads, claws and all.

Eldredge curated the Darwin exhibition at the American Natural History Museum–which we hear is a must-see–but says he’s been so inspired by this Summit that he’s set to write a book about the evolution of simple objects. He personally owns one pretty interesting case study–he has the world’s largest collection of coronets.

Ann Willoughby (who we’ve been design conference-stalking) scooped up all the squab heads she could manage with plans to take them back to Kansas City.

Core77 has a report and squab imagery.

Where’s Your Aspen?

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We’ve been dying to file another report from the Aspen Design Summit, but as our dear friends at Core77 will agree (thanks for the photo), until last night, the short answer is nothing’s happened–yet. We’ve been busy wagging our tongue, but here are some highlights from the featured presentations.

Frank Wilson, author of The Hand, and Elliot Washor of The Big Picture gave the Education Innovation challenge for schools to teach making instead of knowing.

Majora Carter, our new hero and founder of Sustainable South Bronx, and Sergio Palleroni, who’s heading to New Orleans next week for the Katrina Furniture Project, issued the Sustainable Community Development challenge to get our cities to work for our citizens.

Folks from Stanford’s D School and IDE’s Paul Polak and Debbie Taylor (they make that treadle pump third world residents use to find water in the dry season) challenged the Social Entrepreneurship group to find a way for the world’s designers to design for more than 5% of the world’s (richest) population.

Attendees then divided into studio groups to begin the arduous task of solving these problems with the design process. Some surfaced with research surveys, some butted egos in hours-long debate. Personally, we enjoyed watching people’s heads explode.

Mile-and-a-half High Design

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8,000 feet later, we’re safely sequestered among the aspen trees at the ultimate modernist mountain retreat, Aspen Meadows Resort, home to the Aspen Design Summit. All Summit aside, this resort makes us feel like we’re in 1953, when Herbert Bayer was commissioned to create a Bauhaus wonderland, with clean white walls, blonde wood, and too many sweet fluorescent geometric prints to count (most by Bayer). We could live here.

A newer wing on the main building was built by Aspen architect Harry Teague, who describes himself as the local raconteur; after a drink with him the other night, we’ll agree. Teague also created the second generation of Bayer’s original tent which housed the Aspen Design Conference in its early days (1951 was the first year), which also had improvements from a certain Mr. Eero Saarinen. Oh yeah, and that dome you see over to the right? Bucky Fuller.

The grounds continue to generate world-class art, architecture and sculpture with a new building by Jeff Berkus and a new sculpture by Andy Goldsworthy in the works. Like we said, we’re moving here.