If you thought you saw more black-rimmed glasses and aluminum bikes around town this weekend, you weren't imagining it. Designers, engineers, activists, environmentalists and other crunchy-creative types descended upon our fair city for the second annual A Better World by Design conference, which was hosted jointly by RISD and Brown and focused on socially- and environmentally-conscious design.
The conference -- which was founded and is now organized annually entirely by students and ran October 2-4 this year -- drew some 600 people, according to Steve Daniels, a senior at Brown and one of the founders and primary coordinators of the event.
The goal of the conference was to "bring attention to the fact that design and technology can and should be used for social value," according to Daniels.
"All throughout history, we've built to solve social problems," he said. "But recently, because of political and economic factors, we've lost sight of that, so we wanted to focus on that with the conference."
To that end, A Better World included speakers, workshops and panels spanning a number of different disciplines and focusing on everything from green businesses to open-source creativity to sustainable agriculture. Jan Chipchase of the Nokia Research Center delivered the keynote -- which centered on the potential of mobile communications technology to foster connections and improve human productivity. RISD's John Maeda closed the conference Sunday with a speech about the sense of community and connectivity the conference had inspired, both across disciplines and between Brown, RISD and the city of Providence.
Willem Van Lancker, a RISD senior and one of the conference's organizers, said one of the goals of the conference was to "use the dynamism of the Providence community to foster a richer design economy and design community in the city."
The event also served as the launching pad for Revolution by Design, a student-run nonprofit that will now organize the annual conference as well as fund interdisciplinary research projects in Providence. "The idea is to tap into the emerging creative culture here and really connect Brown and RISD and Providence around these concepts of social change by design," Daniels said.
It all dovetails quite nicely with the Creative Capital campaign, Mayor Cicilline's well-intentioned, if oft-maligned effort to rebrand Providence as a sort of hub of innovation that will draw artists, designers and intellectuals -- and, of course, industry and tourism -- to the city. Lynne McCormack, Providence's director of art, culture and tourism, told the Phoenix that the conference was "a perfect example of what we're talking about in terms of making Providence a creative capital and a place where people want to come and share ideas."