Design Society is not here to serve itself, but to serve society. To become a true house of ideas, that is academically rigorous yet fully accessible, we have developed a multifaceted and innovative public learning program that stimulates creative thinking and that engages with the world around us.
This engagement is not a matter of theory, but will have immediate impact on the building itself. Multiple events will animate the building, and prove time and again how architecture thrives when it frames daily life and helps it to unfold. The building will serve the events, and the events will justify the building. This way, Sea World Culture and Arts Center will be a podium for civic life, allowing people to enjoy, watch and participate in Design Society’s public programs.
On another level, Design Society will help foster a creative spirit and a creative society, not by just talking about it, but by demonstrating this principle through our choice of subject matter, by the reach of our critical research and by the design of our events and publications. We hope both content and form will trigger creative thinking and action among our visitors. And besides the activities at Design Society itself, we strive to be a relevant contributor in both social and educational fields, through external activities that transform educational modules at schools and universities into real activators for the next generation of designers and makers. Let the beauty and magic of the exhibitions as well as our stand-alone initiatives be translated into programs that reach out to the lives of real people, and become useful for the city’s creative industries.
Design Society curates exhibitions to investigate the frontlines of design
In the creation of new exhibitions, it is important to find topics that resonate broadly with the wider audience. Through research that critically explores current developments in the creative fields and collaboration with experts in academia and practice, the curatorial program aims to be an interface with which to engage Design Society’s audience on multiple levels.
Design Society strives to identify exhibition topics that demand urgent discussion, presenting the audience with subjects that have a far-reaching presence and influence in their lives. From local to global, from the general public to creative communities, each exhibition topic aims to provide a current, relevant, critical and enjoyable experience for all.
The curatorial team undertakes extensive research, covering both local and international perspectives. Important topics are first identified by following developments in society, then investigated by collaborating with institutions and individuals conducting research in related fields, and by identifying the most representative and critical design practices that reflect these developments. This research process is also a network-building process, helping Design Society identify and connect with talents and leading scholars.
This all comes together in Minding the Digital, the opening show in the Main Gallery. Inspired by current developments within the field of digital design, extensive research was undertaken to investigate how the current digital phenomenon has an impact on our ways of thinking, our relationships and our society.
The exhibition, designed by MVRDV in collaboration with Thonik and the curatorial team, was converted into a site for the public, stimulating their thoughts with everyday design objects, soliciting their interaction with empathetic interfaces and promoting their involvement in participatory spaces.
Design Society stands for quality research. It acts on the frontline of contemporary design practice, and investigates the wider implications of design on society and industry. This enables Design Society to create a program that is relevant to now, and makes Design Society a powerful industry connector. It also insures that the program meets the needs of our audiences. For exhibitions, publications as well as our public program and learning activities, Design Society relies on collaborative and responsive research to inform content and direction.
From focus groups, to audience surveys, interviews and research trips, we work with key voices in industry, academics and creative practices, as well as with local audiences and schools. This allows us to create a diverse exhibition and public program that connects to all our potential audiences.
Audience research and focus groups
Audience research that Design Society has conducted over the past few years shows that the population of Shenzhen is highly educated and young, with a high density of families with young children. It is also home to a large number of people working in design and other creative sectors. Design Society’s programs respond to this, creating a rich and diverse offering that aims to inspire families, creative professionals, students, school children, and more casual visitors alike.
Through focus groups, elements of our program are developed, tested and calibrated with representatives from different audience groups. This process brings us into contact with many players and prompts diverse ways to collaborate with others.
Unidentified Acts of Design
Another example of the value of critical investigation can be found in Unidentified Acts of Design. In 2015, the V&A conducted this project as part of the collaboration with Design Society, exploring contemporary production and manufacturing in Shenzhen. The research succeeded in bringing less known creative scenes to light, but also challenged our categorizations of design, adding new disciplines and local entrepreneurship into the discourse. Some items featured in this project, which was presented at the Shenzhen Biennale 2015, will be part of the exhibition in the V&A Gallery at Design Society, adding to the local embedding and local relevance of the gallery content.
Our public program is not only a means to transfer knowledge, but a generator for civic life
The Sea World Culture and Arts Center (SWCAC) was created to fulfil a civic role, a role that was incorporated in its very design, making it a venue with ample public space for the community.
Design education is rapidly expanding in order to meet the needs of China’s growing global design industry. Design Society, as the first major cultural platform for design in the country, occupies a unique position to become a leader and ‘go to’ resource for excellence and innovation in design education and learning.
The SWCAC is the perfect location for such programs, with plenty of public space for a diverse program of activities, ranging from exhibitions, performances, workshops, installations, children’s activities, to fashion shows.
Design Society programs have been designed in collaboration with different audience groups through audience research, relationship building and testing. Leading up to the opening of Design Society, various aspects of future learning programs have already been explored. Pilot events and activities matched real issues in Shenzhen society, reaching out to younger generations and connecting with schools and community life around Shenzhen.
With panels already held during Beijing Design Week and London Design Festival, panels in Shanghai during the West Bund and Shanghai Design Week, displays and talks with local creatives during the Shenzhen Design Week, workshops in various locations and a very own Community Festival, Design Society has already demonstrated how it can actively engage with and connect to audiences outside of the SWCAC on a national and international level.
Through combining local knowledge, ongoing consultation with target audience groups and potential partners, along with the V&A’s expertise in museum learning, an innovative model has been devised for the specific context of Shenzhen that supports Design Society’s mission to be an open and collaborative platform. We are looking forward to hosting and meeting our future learning audiences!