San Diego Design Week celebrates creativity and innovation
Inaugural event, presented by Mingei International Museum, is aimed at unifying, raising profile of the industry in San Diego
Design is a broad term that can pertain to a multitude of disciplines and processes — from graphic design and architecture to interior design, fashion, technology and many other practices. But design is also about creating solutions or abstract systems to discover underlying causes, solve problems, or address specific needs.
And although San Diego’s organized design community is still developing, several institutions, key partners and designers have collaborated to launch the inaugural San Diego Design Week: a five- day series of talks, tours and workshops that is a citywide celebration of design at large. It is presented by Mingei International Museum, which “over a year ago ... took the lead in organizing the first-ever San Diego Design Week as an expression of its mission to celebrate human creativity from all cultures and eras.” Mingei also secured funding for the event through grants and corporate support.
For the record:
7:48 a.m. Sept. 9, 2020An earlier version of this story contained a quote that was attributed to the wrong person. The following quote should have been attributed to Elena Pacenti, dean of the School of Design at NewSchool of Architecture & Design and should have read as follows: As San Diego develops and grows into its role as a design hub, Pacenti hopes that “the design community in San Diego will maintain its local richness and uniqueness, yet become part of the global conversation on design and contribute with solutions that show how design can improve people’s lives and the planet.”
Don Norman, director of the Design Lab at the University of California San Diego and author of “The Design of Everyday Things,” enlarges our idea of design: “Everyone is a designer. We design when we change the world to benefit ourselves or the world. Design is a way of thinking — a way to change things for good. Design is often confused with art, but it is not art. Art is an expression of the individual artist, but design is about making something that impacts you. Something that is designed for an individual. It’s a different mindset.”
When Norman began his tenure as director in 2014, he was told there wasn’t a group of designers in San Diego. However, after some searching, he started to find different groups of designers all around the county. Too often these folks felt isolated and they, too, often assumed that San Diego didn’t have a design community, even though there were thousands of designers throughout the area.
Elena Pacenti, dean of the School of Design at NewSchool of Architecture & Design, had a similar impression of San Diego in 2013: “The community was a bit fragmented and the different professionals’ enclaves — architects, product designers, interiors, graphics, UX, etc. — weren’t dialoging enough across borders.”
Erwin Hines, creative director at BASIC Agency, an independent branding and experience design company in San Diego, confirms this early suspicion that San Diego is “definitely viewed as a non-creative town. … I think most people have the idea that San Diego is just beaches, beer and surfing, but it is so much more than that. San Diego is home to a very diverse collection of communities and creators.”
As with design, problems like this often become opportunities for brand new solutions. Norman started to organize events like Design Forward Summit in 2016 that sought to bring the design community together. Over 600 people attended the first event, and it was followed by another in 2017. Initially, this was about making San Diego the global capital in the field of human-centered design.
Besides the influx of opportunities to study design at institutions of higher education In San Diego, organizations like the Design Forward Alliance were established to promote and facilitate design-driven innovation in the San Diego region.
Design has evolved to become a way of thinking and solving societal issues, and San Diego has no shortage of major issues that require the help of designers.
“The main thing about designers is that the first thing we have to do is to understand who we are building for,” Norman says. “Secondly, we don’t want to come in and tell them, ‘Here’s your problem, here is what you should do. …’ What we do instead is watch and find the creative people in every community and ask how we can help.”
Design plays a particularly important role in San Diego, and events like Design Week help bring attention to this work. Pacenti has seen growth during her tenure in San Diego: “I have observed the design community growing and evolving, and Design Week is the perfect example of an initiative that will strengthen the design culture in San Diego and make it accessible and visible to the community at large.”
Hines feels there is truly something unique about San Diego design.
“I feel like San Diego has a very special place in the world as it relates to design,” he says. “It’s a space that is undefined, which means people are not creating based on a predefined formula of success. I see so many creative solutions across all industries within San Diego that I just don’t see happening in other places.”
Stacy Kelley, program director for Design Week, says Design Week aims to go beyond the present-day impact of design on America’s Finest City.
“With the 2020 theme of Design+, we are considering not only how design shapes the region and our everyday life,” she says, “but also design’s potential to envision a new future. … It’s an opportunity for conversation and connection, which feels more important now than ever.”
As San Diego develops and grows into its role as a design hub, Pacenti hopes that “the design community in San Diego will maintain its local richness and uniqueness, yet become part of the global conversation on design and contribute with solutions that show how design can improve people’s lives and the planet.”
Going forward, Norman’s goal is to make San Diego the World Design Capital in 2024, which will require a substantial effort by the design community to make San Diego a better place to live and work. To be the capital, it’s essential that that San Diego demonstrate how design impacts every aspect of the city. The combined efforts of the this community will have an opportunity at Design Week to showcase their recent work and potentials in design, he said.
“This is just the first chapter, and the hope is that the projects and collaborations initiated this summer will continue to build in the months and years ahead.”
San Diego Design Week, presented by Mingei International Museum
When: Sept. 9-13
Daichendt, vice provost for undergraduate studies and professor of art history at Point Loma Nazarene University, is a freelance writer.
7:48 a.m. Sept. 9, 2020: This story has been updated to reflect that Mingei International Museum is presenting the city’s inaugural San Diego Design Week.
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