This past November saw the release of Victor Papanek: The Politics of Design, which is an overview of the life and work of designer Victor Papanek (1923-1998) and a collection of essays and interviews on his life and work. One of the interviews features Ahmed Ansari, a PhD Candidate from Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Design, along with his colleague Danah Abdullah, as they were interviewed by Erika Pinner on their views on design education today and decolonising design education.
From Victor Papanek: The Politics of Design:
“The designer, author and design activist Victor J. Papanek anticipated an understanding of design as a tool for political change and social good that is more relevant today than ever. He was one of the first designers in the mainstream arena to critically question design's social and ecological consequences, introducing a new set of ethical questions into the design field.”
This focus on the ecological consequences and ethical questions of design, made Ansari and his group “Decolonizing Design,” the perfect addition to a book focusing on the life of Victor Papanek.
“Design, to a great extent, lacks criticality,” said Ansari, who was a Fulbright scholar and has a Master of Design in Interaction Design from CMU, and a Bachelor of Design in Communication Design from IVSAA, Karachi. “The objective of Decolonizing Design—as design scholars and practitioners—is to transform the very terms of present-day design studies and research. Designers can put to task their skills, techniques, and mentalities to designing futures aimed at advancing ecological, social, and technological conditions where multiple worlds and knowledges, involving both humans and nonhumans, can flourish in mutually enhancing ways…for us, decolonization is not simply one more option or approach among others within design discourse. Rather, it is a fundamental imperative to which all design endeavors must be oriented.”
Decolonizing Design was formed in 2016 after Ansari and seven other designers came together with the goal of creating an open platform that would gather, publish and promote essays and papers from marginalized designers and theorists from around the world, with their unique perspectives and interests, as well as collaborating together as a group on projects involving decolonial design.
“What animates us all is a shared zeitgeist,” said Ansari from Victor Papanek: The Politics of Design. “The specifics of the vision might not be the same, and our academic interests across the group are very different, but all of us came together out of a deep sense of dissatisfaction with the state of the design profession today…we came together out of solidarity really – to form both a platform and, more importantly, a community.”
Ansari’s research interests intersect at the junction between design studies, cultural theory, and the philosophy of technology, and he will be receiving his PhD in Design Studies from the School of Design in 2019.
“Modern technology has its basis in wester philosophical systems”, explains Ansari. “My work looks at Indian philosophy and the use of other cosmological systems to derive different conceptions of technology that work on indigenous and local levels…this is also very important to the Transition Design movement, which aims at designing towards the pluriverse, which is a world where many worlds can fit.”
There will be a follow up to Victor Papanek: The Politics of Design in the form of a symposium in September, 2019, where Ahmed will be lecturing as a keynote speaker.
Victor Papanek: The Politics of Design can currently be purchased online and also features content from School of Design Courtesy Appointment Cameron Tonkinwise and former Design the Future speaker Sara Hendren.