In the event Explore, Reflect, Respond designers will share their experiences using design as a tool for regional development. The participants hail from Iceland, Sweden, England, and the United States and are connected through their experience of community based design practices. They will share their practice with Design March participants through presentation and a mini-workshop. Those who would like to learn more about implementing social design in their own communities should sign up through the Design March website. Registered participants will not only experience the workshop but will connect with each other through a brainstorming and networking lunch.
We look forward to seeing you at Design March!
Designers and Forests is a small group of interested individuals engaging in a conversation about their, and society’s, involvement with forest environments. Forests offer a wealth of possibilities. They are rich in raw material, yet also play a complex role in society—places that can be both very wild and highly cultivated and that elicit strong emotional responses.
Through our interaction with the forest environment, we find opportunities for connections between individuals, scientists and designers to engage in interdisciplinary research and creative collaboration within our communities and throughout the world. While our methods are simple, our aim is lofty—to create healthier forests, healthier communities, while creating better designers and citizens. We maintain focus by keeping our efforts small and sustainable. We believe in taking creative risks, confronting conflicts, and making informed decisions that will benefit the small communities where we live and work.Lumber | Vida, Småland, Sweden | May 2014
Nationally and internationally, forests are used and valued in different and evolving ways. Conversations about their future are taking place, but we feel that it is necessary to expand these dialogues. We feel that, as designers, we can provide creative insights and help to foster connections and collaborations between the many interested parties.
We believe that only through immersion in a place or problem can you hope to understand it. While this should include traditional research, we believe that designers need to engage in a dialogue with members of any community they are working in. This dialogue may be through formal events or the daily informal interactions that come with living in a place. We also believe that through self-directed exploration—on foot, on bike, on public transport, even in a car—a designer can see and understand the environment in a deeper and more productive manner.
These beliefs are at the heart of Designers and Forests. We feel that getting out into the forest is the first step of research. During Beetle Kill and Aspen Die-Off, participants engaged in a carefully considered expedition based workshop. They not only learned about the forests issues, but how to set up a tent, when to filter water, and how to scavenge for mushrooms.
We believe that the best ideas come with time. Experience requires reflection—in the form of discussion and contemplation— to be productive. The participants in Beetle Kill and Aspen Die-Off took time over the intensive workshop to discuss their observations and thoughts. They then left Utah to return to their studios and workshops, continuing their dialogue. Over the course of several months, their ideas were able to develop.
“Everyone sees things differently after having been in the woods.”
After their experiences in the summer of 2013 and the discussions and contemplation that followed, workshop participants in Beetle Kill and Aspen Die-Off realized their designs in their own studios. They were able to collaborate with their existing creative network, drawing on an even greater body of skill and knowledge. Using materials, techniques, and motifs they discovered or prompted by the Utah expedition, they created their own design solutions.
Some solutions are intended to spark discussion, others are meant to inform. Some exist as stand-alone products, others are intended as prototypes for individuals and communities to follow. We believe that response can even take the form of further discussions and as sharing our findings and process with other individuals looking for approaches to address their own communities and environments.
Designers and Forests grew out of two seemingly unrelated events. The first was a journey on bicycle across the United States. The second was the collapse of the economy of Iceland.
In the summer of 2011, project co-founder Jason Dilworth biked across the North American continent and was disturbed by what he saw in the Western United States—whole mountainsides of dead or dying pine and aspen trees. He also saw towns dying or turned into economic monocultures dependent on the whim of one employer, their diversity and self-sufficiency lost to the international economy. He told another designer, project co-founder Megan Urban. She was also disturbed by the th maple, ash, and hemlock trees she saw dying in Eastern forests and by the decimation of the towns she grew up in as their industries moved to other parts of the United States or overseas. The two designers realized there were many similarities in the problems that plagued these two different regions but were at a loss for what they could do to help.
A year later, Jason and Megan found their way to Iceland, a country that has withstood a massive shock in the Fall of 2008. That October, Iceland’s banking sector disintegrated under the weight of liabilities over ten times larger than the country’s GDP, sending the nation into a period of double digit inflation, unprecedented unemployment, and currency devaluation. Three years later, the country began to emerge from its crisis transformed. The driving forces of the new economy included design and the arts, as documented in the government sponsored publication “Towards Creative Iceland: building local, going global” Towards Creative Iceland. In this new economy, creative endeavors were sources of not only monetary gains, but community stability and growth.
Jason and Megan wondered how this creative economy had taken hold and who or what was driving it. These questions guided the designers on their summer 2012 trip as they travelled around Iceland to find answers, meeting with some of the arts organizations, designers, and government officials responsible for this paradigm shift. They experience a society that had been shaped by its history, size, geology, and of course, the vagaries of its economy, Jason and Megan found people that prized independence, community, family, learning, and history, yet also seemed open to new ideas, alternative methods of thought, and ingenious solutions. Surprisingly, they heard one phrase repeated over and over; “the collapse was actually a blessing.”
It was a blessing because it forced people to re-evaluate their priorities, to take stock and decide what mattered, and to rediscover the strength that had allowed their ancestors to survive in such an unforgiving environment. The collapse was also a particular blessing to artists and other creatives because their way of thinking, often antithetical to the modes of thought that dominated the financial industry that had laid the country low, were given increased attention. Their ideas, so hard to quantify in financial terms, were now valuable for how they contributed qualitatively to individual communities and society as a whole.
While Jason and Megan met many individuals they met, all inspiring them with the possibilities to be found in their own town, county , state and country, it was a group in East Iceland that directly lead to the establishment of the Designers and Forests Project. There they met some of the people behind MAKE By Þorpið including Project Manager Lára Vilbergsdóttir. This project provides an alternative to the region’s growing economic monoculture through workshop space, instruction, and assistance to aspiring and established artisans and designers, Instead of a single focal point, make links together different communities with creative spaces dedicated to the materials and crafts endemic to each town. It also helps artists retail their goods and acts as a bridge to businesses, museums, and institutions on local, regional, national, and international levels. The success of the project was evidenced by the fact that Jason and Megan had seen product make had incubated in stores around the country.
When the two designers returned to the United States, their experience stayed with them. As a result, when make sponsored the Make it Happen conference in last September of 2012, Megan returned to East Iceland to continue to learn from the project and its experiences. (As covered in Disegno Magazine)
At this fascinating conference, Megan met Victor Strandgren and Daniel Bystöm, instructors at Nässjö Akademy/ Jönköping University in Sweden. They had brought students to East Iceland to collaborate with make in the creation of products inspired by local materials. Daniel was also a key note speaker at the conference where he shared his experiences with destination design. In Daniel and Victor’s work, Megan saw the sort of projects she had envisioned with Jason so she introduced herself and began a conversation that continued through email, Skype, and finally, in person. She and Jason travelled to Nässjö early in the summer of 2013, and the discussions grew into the collaborative Designers and Forests and the Beetle Kill and Apen Die -Off project that began in Utah in the summer of 2013.
Beetle Kill and Aspen Die-Off is the inaugural project of the larger Designers and Forest collaborative. This design venture was prompted by the pine, spruce, and aspen that are stressed and endangered as a consequence of changing conditions in the Intermountain West.
The overall goal of this project is to help revitalize forests and foster healthier communities by taking a holistic view of both natural ecosystems and the design process. Specifically, this project links designers from Sweden and New York with foresters, activists, designers, artisans, and community members in Utah. The Swedish collaborators have a proven track record of creating high quality goods from local materials and have also worked with local communities in establishing creative economies. The collaborators in Utah have the resources and desire to find innovative forest management techniques. They also have the community connections necessary to make this project successful economically and with local citizens.
In the summer of 2013, members of Designers and Forests met in the forests of Utah to explore and experience the region and familiarize ourselves with the area’s problems dialogue that allows experts to share unique knowledge and perspectives across disciplines and borders with the intention of finding new ways of looking at the problems of stressed forests. We began a collaboration to propose possible solutions to the region’s problems and create a scalable model that could help create healthier forests and communities in Utah. We conducted workshops as we explored the state and met key members of different communities affected by beetle kill and aspen die-off. This research and exploration lead to the pilot projects currently being developed and implemented.