Thursday, October 5, 2017

EDIT: Exposition for Design, Innovation & Technology

I am a big fan of the Design Exchange in Toronto. Situated on Bay Street in the old Toronto Stock Exchange, they put on all sorts of amazing events such as 2013's The Happy Show (a look into the mind of prolific designer/artist Stefan Sagmeister) and 2014's This Is Not A Toy (an exhibit on the popularity of vinyl toys and collectibles curated by Pharrell Williams). They also host inspirational lectures by designers all over the world, run design competitions of varying themes, and lots more.

The Exposition in Design, Innovation and Technology, aka EDIT, is probably the Design Exchange's biggest undertaking this decade. Since Toronto is a sizeable design hub, many of their events are well-attended but EDIT is something of a completely different nature. Encompassing four floors of the old Unilever Soap Factory (pictured below) and using design and technology as a lens to view topics like human rights, sustainability, ecological impact, developing countries, world hunger, and so much more.

Shipping containers scattered around the front of the building to show the charming nature of tiny unconventional homes.

I attended EDIT last Friday September 29, the first full day of the exposition. I couldn't believe that single-day tickets are only $15, considering the scale and quality of the programming, and on top of that, this day was stacked. The environmental keynote and first talk of the day was the legendary David Suzuki, environmental activist and one of Canada's favourite homegrown celebrities.

Suzuki spoke about the environmental impact that humans are having on the environment, and how we need to sustainably coexist with the earth. I especially appreciated his advice about what to do with people who say it's too late to change: just tell them to "shut up!"

Suzuki spoke very passionately on a program that he hopes will come to fruition: allowing indigenous peoples of all areas and terrains of Canada to become stewards of their land. We need to utilize their valuable knowledge of how our natural land works and allow them to dictate how we can help the land instead of hurting it with unsustainable practices.

After Suzuki came the next knockout talk by renowned designer, editor and filmmaker Scott Dadich. Dadich was the editor-in-chief at Wired Magazine until he stepped down earlier this year to focus on his Netflix series Abstract: The Art of Design. This is a person who wants the world to understand the importance of design and believes it should be accessible to everyone.

In this Design Keynote, Dadich described his personal approach to design, which I found very enlightening. For one of the first covers he ever designed for Wired's rebrand, he took careful consideration to make everything on the page work just so. When his director gave him less-than-ideal feedback, he decided to simply add a small horizontal bar of red, the ugliest and most backwards thing he could find. He basically plopped it on the page, pressed print, and plopped it on the director's desk. From there, the rest was history. Through his work at Wired and beyond, Dadich has followed the principle of creating a "perfect" design, one on which everyone can come to a consensus, and then adding one wrong thing to it. This off-balance style is now an integral part of Wired's brand.

After that, it was time to check out some of the exhibits that covered most of the four floors of the factory. Not to mention...this was pretty much the only sunshine we got on such a gloomy Friday. Good thing most of the exhibits were indoors.

This rooftop garden adjacent to the speakers' stage is called No Lot Is Vacant, showing that any space can be used to grow food easily and bountifully. What was probably a dingy gross gravel and concrete space had been transformed into a lush, green oasis of herbs and vegetables.

Complete with a lovely view of the city from the east side of the Don River.
 This was a great space to sit for a few minutes and discuss the talks of the day.

A project called Astrocyte, created by Philip Beesley Architects.

I really enjoyed scoping out the exhibits and contrasting them with the leftover factory relics like industrial vats and employee safety posters.

Yes, this definitely used to be a factory.

The next talk was by Eythor Bender, CEO of a company called UNYQ, specializing in creating prosthetics and other equipment to help differently-abled people live normal lives. Bender is an innovation and business leader in the field of human augmentation. UNYQ works with emerging technologies like 3D printing and other rapid prototyping tools to ensure that their prosthetics are accessible to people all over the world at low costs and/or that meet insurance policies to be covered by providers instead of having to pay out-of-pocket.

Bender invited a user of his prosthetic leg design to speak about her experience with it.

Next, John Brownstein gave the Care Keynote on the future of health data. As the Chief Innovation Officer of Boston Hospital – and the healthcare advisor behind Uber Health – he spoke about putting the “public” back in public health with his data-generated health maps. Utilizing public data like tweets involving keywords like "sick" and "flu", his vision is that technologies can predict major outbreaks before anything else. Even scraping something as simple as OpenTable for last-minute cancellations in a specific location can show trends in sickness and disease.

I eventually was able to locate what used to be the men's locker room for factory workers, where three prolific design educators spoke in a panel about design thinking. The panel featured Rosanne Somerson, President of Rhode Island School of Design; Sara Diamond, President of OCAD University; and Luigi Ferrara, Dean of Centre Arts, Design and Information Technology at George Brown College, and Director of Institute Without Boundaries. 

Three varying opinions on the meaning of design thinking and how we can use it to solve the world's wicked problems.

I had been sitting in talks from 10:30 to around 5:00, so it was time to check out some more of the exhibits.
These hanging air purifiers can create clean, breathable air for a family of four. A little freaky since they look like IV bags, but maybe that's the point!

A visual of some of the produce deemed unfit to sell in grocery stores, due only to less-than-satisfactory appearance. Even sitting in the display for two days or so by this point, it all looked very edible to me.

An interactive display on the importance of wood as a renewable resource, complete with hanging test tubes containing saplings that will eventually be planted.

A rare selfie with an interesting exhibit that uses light and colour to display the economic divide between upper and lower class citizens.

Back to talks again: Carlo Ratti, the founder of MIT's Senseable City Lab, and curator of EDIT’s Shelter/Cities exhibit, explored how we can bring nature back into urban areas – from the home to the metropolis. He also spoke excitedly about Toronto's upcoming Eataly to be situated at Bay and Bloor.

I was honoured to hold the door open for Jennifer Keesmaat (urban planner and former chief planner for the city of Toronto) on our way up to the panel on resilient cities that she was moderating. By 2050, 70 percent of the world’s population will live in cities. This panel discussion shows how we can hack the city, turning it into a place that provides sustenance while we bolster its sustainability.

Each of these people has a different view of how to make cities resilient. Recent natural disasters were a popular topic, as well as how to grow food to eat on an individual scale.

Looking up from the talk, it was interesting to note the architecture and how high this building actually goes!

From there, I made my way down to the first floor for the last talk of the evening. I was pretty hyped to see Emily Haines (lead singer of popular Canadian band Metric) speak with Nell Merlino on their partnership in a new initiative in gender equality. Haines is the spokesperson for Global Citizen's new campaign, She Decides.

The talk was held in a very interesting room, decorated with letters to the mayor. The subject of the letters complimented the scale models scattered around the room showing that Toronto can do better in its approach to architecture and urban planning.

The two women spoke on gender equality in the workplace and beyond, the importance of women and girls having the power to decide what to do with her body, with her life, and with her future.

After 12 hours of amazing talks and exhibits, I simply didn't have the energy to explore the amazing exhibit on the first floor, Prosperity for All curated by Bruce Mau. Luckily, I was able to come back the next day for Nuit Blanche, when the building was open to the public. Thanks, Design Exchange!

The building is a little spooky at night!

There were some amazing inventions and innovations all over the first floor, like a water skimmer that removes plastic waste from our oceans while preserving the ecosystem and wildlife, a makeshift shelter made from discarded life vests that are no longer needed by refugees, and lots more.

I really enjoyed these infographics that depict complex ideas and information through simple pictorial means.

Design has the power to be beautiful, inspirational, meaningful, and life-changing.

I was beyond impressed with the Design Exchange's ability to put on an exposition of such a grand scale. I can't recommend more that you should attend, especially since there are only three days left to experience all the inspiration. Check out the exposition website and purchase tickets here.

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