DESIS Philosophy Talk #2.2: Storytelling & Social innovation

Category: events, Storytelling

DESIS Philosophy Talk

March 12, 2014, Design Academy Eindhoven – The Netherlands
“Designers telling stories”

DESIS Network, Design Academy Eindhoven (Strategic Creativity Lab) – Heather Daam & Maartje van Gestel, Politecnico di Milano, Design Dep. (Imagis – POLIMI DESIS Lab) – Elisa Bertolotti & Francesca Piredda and MAD Faculty (Social Spaces CUO – DESIS Lab) – Virginia Tassinari

Can we consider the act of telling stories of social innovation a political action, as it opens up the idea of public realm as a place where decision making take place? Is storytelling in design for social innovation a poetic action, where the two dimensions of telling and making, as in the Greek idea of poiesis, are finally reconciled? Can we look at telling stories of emerging sustainable behaviours worldwide as a way to manifest what is at the margin of the mainstream of society and help its potentialities to be fully expressed? How can we as designers tell the stories of the margins respecting their complexity without oversimplifying them? During this second session on storytelling following the one held in Dublin past November during the Cumulus conference, we will reflect together on this topic and try to formulate some design guidelines for our design practices.

Nowadays we are encountering many different ways in which designers are telling the stories of social innovation. This phenomena makes us wonder how we can start a reflection on the philosophical value of storytelling, and see whether this can be somehow helpful in feeding our practice as designer. Amongst the many philosophers who have been working on the idea of storytelling, we let ourselves be inspired by the work of the German philosopher Hannah Arendt. She believes that storytelling is in essence the act to recognise the potentiality that is hiding behind the mainstream, and be able to read this potentiality, to translate it, to tell its story. This act of telling stories is what Hannah Arendt recognises as the real political action that opens up the idea of public space, where everybody is invited to take part in the discussion of which the decisions upon the polis, on the common realm, are taken together. This act of telling stories brings together the act of telling and the one of making, as it used to be in the Greek world poiseis. Storytelling is to Arendt poetry: an action that takes place through words. Through storytelling the potentialities of the past, what was already there and was not manifested yet because not belonging to the mainstream, finally has the chance to become actual, to show its pregnancy.

When we tell stories of social innovation, we also look at what is already present in society, but did not have the chance yet to make explicit. Sustainable behaviours such as alternative ideas of production and consumption, for example, are nowadays rising on a global basis. The act of telling their stories makes them visible, tangible, and allows existing initiatives to grow and further develop and for new ones to take shape. How do we as designers look around us, see potentialities (both past and present potentialities), and bring them into actuality? When a designer tells those stories he essentially also acts: this act is a deeply poetic act, as in Arendt, since he allows what is potentially present at the margins of mainstream to express its full potentiality. Does a designer always succeed in this operation? We probably need here, as designers, to develop a self-critique as we are not always very good storytellers. Can we really listen to stories? Can we respect the nuances of reality, and describe what lies at the margins of the mainstream without making of it a mainstream again? What are the nuances in designers telling stories? How can we better express this poetic dimension of telling-making in our design practice (videos, objects, pictures?) In which way are designer today storytellers (or not)? How can we translate all these questions in design guidelines? Telling stories of social innovation means to be able to look at what lies at the margins of society, what has to do with alternatives to the mainstream. How can we avoid being self-celebratory? How do designers use storytelling as a transformative action? How can we use stories to create transformative energy within our society?

14.00 -17.30
Design Academy Eindhoven
5th Floor, Emmasingel 14

Elisa Bertolotti, Politecnico di Milano – Design Dep., Imagis Lab
Heather Daam, Design Academy Eindhoven – Strategic Creativity Lab
David Hamers, Design Academy Eindhoven
Liesbeth Huybrechts, MAD Faculty/LUCA – Social Spaces DESIS Lab; Design Academy Eindhoven Social Design
Sophie Krier, Design researcher and curator
Davide Pinardi, Novelist
Nik Baerten, Pantopicon
Francesca Piredda, Politecnico di Milano – Design Dep., Imagis Lab
Virginia Tassinari, MAD Faculty/LUCA – Social Spaces DESIS Lab
Andrea Trimarchi and Simone Farresin, Studio FormaFantasma
Mika ‘Lumi’ Tuomola, Aalto University ARTS – Crucible Studio ‘Storytelling New Media’
Bas Raijmakers, Design Academy Eindhoven – Strategic Creativity Lab
Marja Seliger, Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture
David Parkinson, Lecturer – Design for Industry, Northumbria University, School of Design

Many thanks to the students, researchers and teachers that have contributed their projects as examples.

(Updated: March 10, 2014)