Project Sammaan at the Papanek Symposium

In continuation to Ayush’s post about the project dissemination activities, I am sharing my recent experience at the Papanek Symposium in Vienna. The symposium was organised by the Victor J. Papanek Foundation, University of Applied Arts Vienna, and focused on the social and political imperative of design in emerging economies.

Papanek’s landmark book published in 1971, “Design for the Real World”, has been translated into more than 20 languages and is one of the most widely read books on design in the world. Papanek has been a very influential thinker in sustainable design and his approach is even more relevant today.

The symposium brought together practitioners and academics from various countries to speak about alternative design genres from their own practices or from their work in various contexts. I chose to share our learnings as designers from our experiences so far on Project Sammaan.

I first took them through some of our learnings and insights around community sanitation from the Potty Project to contextualize a space alien . This then led to our current work in Odisha where I shared details about our model of intervention as well as the challenges of the context that we work in.

Babitha George of Quicksand speaking at the Papanek Symposium in Vienna (Image Credit - Papanek Foundation, 2013)

Babitha George of Quicksand speaking at the Papanek Symposium in Vienna (Image Credit – Papanek Foundation, 2013)

Since most of the audience consisted of design students and practitioners from Austria and neighbouring European countries, the focus of my talk was on the importance of being cognisant of the ‘real world’ when we choose to embark on ambitious design tasks. Designers could be naive about the contexts in which their solutions are to be employed and this often leads to a complete failure of products and systems when implemented.

Surprisingly, this is caused most often, by a disconnect from the user group. By basing our work on extended research with (and often within) user communities both during the Potty Project, as well as in Bhubaneswar and Cuttack with CFAR during the initial phases of design for Project Sammaan, we hope that our designs will be relevant and valuable to the communities that they will serve. I also spoke about the real world challenges of attempting to innovate within government constraints as well as with such a large consortium of partners, each with its own unique skills and perspectives. Conventional design projects also tend to experiment with single prototypes before embarking on scaled up design. With our constraints around the need for a certain minimum scale to test for effectiveness, I illustrated how we had attempted to test for some elements of the design with user research and the Potty Lab, especially with regard to designing for the disabled.

It was heartening and encouraging to see how our attempts with Project Sammaan resonated with such a diverse audience of designers and architects. It was also extremely inspiring to hear examples of work from other parts of the world including Vinay Venkatraman’s project – Frugal Digital.

Here is the video of the complete talk:

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