Questioning material culture-Sylwia Ulicka

Sylwia gave an interesting talk about social responsibility and the consumption culture that we live today. She is a designer, researcher and lecturer. What drives her as a designer and when leading her students is the search for more sustainable ways of living. She dives in into the topic by defining what sustainable development is: 

„Sustainable development meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.“

She goes on with the history of sustainable development. The first books that were written on that topic were published around 1960 and 1970. After that, actual plans have been developed in order to plan and organize the further development into becoming more sustainable. For example, the agenda 21, the millennium goals and the sustainable development goals have been introduced.

Sylwia then begins to describe the triangle model of sustainable development. It consists of the three parts: ecological, economical and social aspects. All of these three aspects shall be considered when assessing the development of a company, a country etc. There are three levels of design. In the first level, design considers the three aspects of the triangle. This refers to e.g. core design and human centered design. In the second level, the three aspects are only vaguely considered. Here, she mentions gender design and design for innovation. The third and last level does not consider the triangle model at all. Critical design and radical design belong to this level because they focus on behaviour, emotions and meanings.

People and designers made efforts to use as little as possible to produce as much as possible, however, these efforts did not have the desired effect. Because people began to consume more and more, carbon dioxide emissions rose. Sylwia and her students started a project which is called „Objects of discomfort“ to address this consumption problem. They named their project like this because the single works of students open up about uncomfortable facts and make people think about it. These projects intend to be radical, critical and uncomfortable. In my opinion the results of the students’ projects are incredibly creative and strong in their meaning. 

I want to present to you one of those students’ projects. It is a mace, a spray for women to defend themselves. However, as the Mexican regulations only allow women to use these maces when they have been hurt already, the students implemented needles right where one would need to press when he/she wants to use the spray. So inevitably, the person that is using the mace, gets hurt right away to conform to these regulations. With this project the students want to shed light to this bad state of affairs, which is also the reason for the high violence rate against women in Mexico.

I think the talk that Sylwia gave was highly interesting. Especially when she showed the projects of their students, I was really amazed. This is a great way to make people aware of deficiencies.