Where is design heading?

Exploring how ‘design challenges the present and shapes things to come’ at Helsinki Design Museum

For the first assignment on the Aalto Design Masters programme we were tasked with visiting Helsinki Design Museum’s exhibition Enter and Encounter and finding a project which best embodies where the field of design should head in the future.

The exhibition presented a broad catalogue of ideas and projects from Hello Ruby, a picture book that teaches children to code to Cellpod, a biotechnology appliance which enables consumers to grow nutritious plant cells at home. Even desert in the form of Suomen Jäätelö, a locally sourced, pine flavoured ice-cream designed by Artek was represented.

Choosing just one to represent the future of design proved to be a challenge but I finally a settled for Open Care, a system for addressing the problem of nuclear waste.

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The exhibit, designed by Erich Berger and Mari Kato, proposes an imaginary future whereby each of us becomes a custodian of nuclear waste. The carefully designed instruments make up a “distributed nuclear waste storage” system for use in the home. The electroscope, gold leaf, electrostatic rod, fur and bronze disk along with the instruction booklet are designed to check levels of radioactivity. Until the levels become safe, the owner and their descendants must continue to care for it.

As the world becomes increasingly dependent on nuclear energy it is essential that we ask the question – is this energy source worth the waste it leaves behind? Uranium has a half-life of 4.5 billion years – an almost intangible amount of time.

By creating a waste storage system so beautiful it would look out of place anywhere other than the mantle piece, Berger and Kato literally brings home the urgent problem of nuclear waste and renders the huge time scale of radioactive decay into more meaningful units of lifetimes. The marriage of aesthetics and science, ‘collective care’ and personal responsibility perfectly illustrate the future role of design.

Ecological, sociocultural and economic instability forces the designer to consider new perspectives. In my opinion, as with Open Care, the future of design is user-oriented, responsible, informative, collaborative and explicit.

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