designboom is the official online media partner of WHAT DESIGN CAN DO! 2013.the initiative’s mission?to celebrate the power of design and its problem-solving abilities. this two-day event in amsterdam exposes design as a catalyst of change and renewal and a way of addressing the societal questions of our time.


‘make the most of the innovative and disruptive power of designers.’this year the event sees a range of events from documentary screenings, exhibitions, vegetarian meat-tasting sessions, breakouts, a design tour through the new stedelijk museum, and of course plenty of talks by international speakers from the world of design. WHAT DESIGN CAN DO! highlights the social value of design, bursts into life again at the stadsschouwburg in amsterdam on may 16 and 17, 2013.


‘everything is design,’ says richard van der laken, the man who initiated what design can do. ‘step out of bed in the morning, check the time on the clock, sit down at a wooden table to eat your breakfast cereal from a blue or white bowl, then bike to work and send messages via whatsapp. it’s all been designed.’ that’s why we cannot stress the importance of the designer’s social role enough. that is what happens during WHAT DESIGN CAN DO. among the guests are designers who have a big influence on our daily lives, including mike kruzeniski, head of design at twitter (see designboom’s feature interview with kruzeniski); next nature, the collective that investigates the relation between man the designer and nature; as well as bas van abel, a young dutch entrepreneur who has developed a mobile telephone, called the fairphone, that does not contain any ‘bad’ natural resources.


this is the third time that WHAT DESIGN CAN DO is taking place in amsterdam. designers from all disciplines — fashion, product design, graphic design, architecture and more — are gathering for two days to discuss the social impact of design. the conference wants to show that the power of design goes further than making a nice sofa. the innovative and disruptive power of creative people should be deployed to create a better, fairer and cleaner world. ‘we want to show that we can change things,’ says van der laken.


this year the event moves up a scale with breakout sessions at the apple store on leidseplein, a programme of documentary films at the balie debate centre, and an exhibition featuring the work of designers hellicar & lewis at the stedelijk museum. what’s more, fake meat will be served at a vegetarian tasting event devised and designed by marije vogelzang, one of the dutch guests at WHAT DESIGN CAN DO! 2013.


what design can do 2013 – oliviero toscani on ‘unrestrained creativity’video courtesy of what design can do



richard van der laken, director of WHAT DESIGN CAN DO on the initiative:

at the salone del mobile in milan last year, I walked through a big exhibition of work by british star designer tom dixon. at the end of the exhibition I entered a small room where a lady introduced me to a peculiar line of products. I was looking at the ‘eclectic collection’ by tom dixon, she explained. products for the ‘small purse’, ranging in price from 50 to 300 euro. the most remarkable item of all being a copper shoe. her explanation revealed that this shoe belonged to…tom dixon. made of cast copper. for the man with the small purse, I was stupefied. I think this example perfectly illustrates where design has gone in recent years. the so-called star designer was born, and unique products are auctioned for vast sums of money. now, a few years after the crisis and with the next one probably looming on the horizon, we all feel that something has changed. whether you are a baker, a banker, a police officer or a designer, things have changed.

during the first WHAT DESIGN CAN DO! conference, jurgen bey argued that design cannot solve everything and he is right. but nonetheless, designers operate from the very heart of society, where they constantly connect with clients, the public, consumers, users, colleagues and others. that offers designers ample opportunity to take responsibility for change. design is more than a nice vase (or a cast of tom dixon’s shoe). design can offer alternatives, can solve problems, can break taboos. that is WHAT DESIGN CAN DO! it is an appeal to the creative industry, to business in general, and to the public at large to recognize the impact design can have in making our world a little better.