Professor med ansvarlighet på designagendaen

Toni Kauppila er en ildsjel med mange parallelle prosjekter på gang. I tillegg til sitt virke som arkitekt er han professor og fagansvarlig for interiørarkitektur og møbeldesign ved Kunsthøgskolen i Oslo. Dessuten er han styremedlem i Designers' Saturday, der han har har snakket varmt og engasjert om designbransjens rolle og ansvar i forhold til samfunnet – noe som la grunnlaget for årets tema: RESPONSIBILITY. Eller ansvarlig design, som vi kan oversette det til. I dette intervjuet forteller Toni mer om sine tanker om temaet. For ikke å eventuelt forkludre svarene hans ved å oversette dem, lar vi de stå på originalspråket. 

– Hva legger du i begrepet responsibility, og da spesielt relatert til designbransjen?

– Designers tend to be optimistic, and have a will and a belief to make things better. At the core it is about ethics, and the ways we approach our values to seek for good. At different eras our outputs may turn out differently despite the sincere intentions.
Designers have been an integral part of creating amazing things, yet also a great deal of rubbish. What we once thought to be good for humans, may not be good for the planet. In many ways it is easy to say that we should have much less stuff today, especially as the contemporary conditions have become so complex that we cannot perceive all the consequences of our actions. At the same time maybe the biggest challenges for our future are the ways we come together. In th
ose assemblies we can agree to collaborate but also to confront our differences, to take responsibility of one’s doings. These are the spaces for us to encounter each other in order to respect and care, and for me that is the realm where we operate in this field. 
So, the responsibility that I am referring to addresses more the social dimension, where we are concerned about our collective inhabitation by celebrating our diversity.

– Hvorfor er det viktig for deg og resten av Designers’ Saturday Oslo å velge temaet responsibiliy for årets arrangement?

– When I proposed the theme of responsibility, my thinking was to make us also to concentrate on something meaningful during this joyful event. Design in our fields is about a variety of services and products for multiple different undertakings, which all of them, I hope, has the ambition to make the environments we operate in a bit better. Within those diverse approaches there are obviously various responses to the tasks.
My hope has been to get the agendas revealed, and let the participants contribute what all can it mean to be a responsible actor in our field in 2019, how can those actions surface and how could we ponder about these different perspectives. In some cases it might be a clever use of material, in some cases the enhanced working conditions at the factory and in some cases how the services assist democracy.

"Designers have been an integral part of creating amazing things, yet also a great deal of rubbish. What we once thought to be good for humans, may not be good for the planet." 

– Hva kan et arrangement som DS gjøre?

– DS is the biggest and most notable design event in Norway within our fields. This has been the place to launch new products and present them to the local market. DS is also a social forum for the various actors to meet and to discuss the developments in the field. DS is all about communication between various parties, whether this is marketing, networking or even just gossiping.  Thus, it seems as DS should be the ultimate arena for addressing topics that go into the core of our practices. If we are clear about this on the level of the whole event, it becomes an open invitation to contribute to the discourse for each one of us; the organizers, the exhibitors, the visitors and the wider public. And by sharing the concern, we also share the reasonability to respond.

– Miljøvern, bærekraft og sosialt ansvar er alle viktige og aktuelle temaer for tiden. Hvordan sørger vi for at de blir mer enn en kortvarig trend?

– Yes, we have seen this with the ‘green wash’. But I do believe that the consumers persist becoming much more concerned and demanding, and those companies that will only bluff, won’t get by anymore. The companies that are not willing to disrupt their current modes of ill practices will have much tougher time to survive, and those capable for game-changing for more ethical solid commissions will be the success stories. Thus, I trust that eventually the market itself will steer this paradigm shift beyond trends.

– Hvilke egne erfaringer har du gjort deg som arkitekt og professor som gjør at du ønsker å fokusere på ansvarlig design?

– The way I teach and practice, is that when one engages with a project, one never has only one client, but rather a multiple clientele. Meaning that any given task does not only address a singular need, but a responsibility to contribute to much wider challenges than those immediate at hand.
Here I am thinking that by putting one’s creativity at work, one ought to contextualize the project, how can the outcome be better for the environment and society in large, and how can it progress the best practices in the field in general, while it is solving a particular problem.
This is the ethical responsibility, that I believe all designers have; the mindset of a progressive researcher that has the curiosity for details, yet a will to serve the common good.

"Those capable for game-changing for more ethical solid commissions will be the success stories."

– Hvordan er situasjonen for norsk designbransjen på dette området? Og for bransjen internasjonalt?

– The ethically responsible designer tends to put much more hours in their projects. And rightfully so, as the issues we need to address are more and more complex. Yet the industry is not always at sync here, by seeing the value of that work. But I think here we as designers are also to blame; we don’t always communicate and educate the other parties to acknowledge that design is much more than wrapping. By investing in the ethically responsible design, the objective is not to provide only the new model for the next season, but to make a difference that matter in longer perspective.
This is of course the foundation for good business as well, that is not focused on only in the immediate sales, but on fundamental grounds to become agile to make that difference. Unfortunately, I feel that our Norwegian industry is here not in the forefront of the development. We have the tendency to trust on the business being as usual, and that we would only operate in the local market, when the world is constantly changing and all our actions influence globally. Eventually this will drive the less responsible companies out of business. On the positive note, we tend to have the capacity in Norway to make big leaps forward, when we have the will.

– Er dette et område som myndighetene er opptatt av, og jobber for endring, eller må bransjen selv ta initiativ til forandring?

– I believe that we need to operate on many fronts simultaneously. Sometimes it may need political guidance, sometimes the market may drive the change and maybe more often the grassroot activism will create that disruption. We should acknowledge the way design can span between various scales, and how many times the best results are achieved indirectly.
The education and research are obviously also key drivers here. We have the tendency to think that the education ought to be serving the industry, when that thinking is automatically outdated as it would be responding to the yesterday’s needs. Education is by nature future directed and thus can play significantly important role in this development. Also, we should invest much more on the young graduates to steer the debate.

– Hvilken makt har kunder, både på det profesjonelle markedet og private forbrukere, til å påvirke? Har du noen konkrete råd?

– The customers and consumers have all the power in the world!! We all know that cutting down eating red meat or skipping that holiday flight to Thailand would be the right thing to do. But too often, one tends to postpone that decision and trust that the others will, and only very little things changes. Yet we are now more educated and informed than ever before, and here still lies the potential, as by knowing better, we can also cultivate our desires towards making those better choices holistically. One should neither underestimate the power of social pressure, and how one wishes to be perceived as being part of that meaningful debate. But we do need further endorsement to acquire to have the ownership on the issues to be addressed, that these are ours, not someone else’s problems. And we need further encouragement and evidence that our choices do matter. Here we can see some examples from joint participatory ventures between companies and consumers, but maybe even more interestingly the bottom-up activism and the DIY scene. Eventually also the market will follow the consumers.

"We all know that cutting down eating red meat or skipping that holiday flight to Thailand would be the right thing to do. But too often, one tends to postpone that decision and trust that the others will."