Why Conflict Makes For Better Design

“Conflict and Design,” the Seventh Design Triennial in Flanders, highlights 60 socially responsible designs and shows that conflict may actually be a driving force for innovation.

“The most important ability that a designer can bring to his work,” Victor Papanek wrote in his seminal book, Design for the Real World, “is the ability to recognize, isolate, define, and solve problems.” The seventh edition of the Design Triennial, happening now in Flanders, takes a cue from Papanek and features the work of designers-as-problem solvers with the exhibition “Conflict and Design.” It includes over 60 design concepts, projects, and processes that investigate how good design can make the world a better place.


The work is “not innovation for the sake of innovation,” according to curator Kurt Vanbelleghem, “but rather design with a clear social-societal objective: creating a better living, social, and working climate.”

The exhibition has been divided into four sections–Conflict & Society, Conflict & Nature, Conflict & Economy, and Conflict & Conflict–with designers addressing a wide range of problems, from saving the endangered Bluefin tuna to creating more humane prison architecture.

With the project Museum In Our Street (MIOS), for example, Studio Dott and Pantopicon attempt to unite people in our increasingly isolated and anonymous modern cities through a toolkit that allows neighbors to temporarily turn street-level windows into a mini-museum. A self-adhesive frame creates a display for personal photos or knickknacks, along with contact cards.

“The objective was to use a design intervention to promote simple but meaningful encounters with people who live close to each other,” designer Anna van Oppen said in her artist statement. MIOS was given a test run throughout Antwerp in 2011, and participants, formerly strangers, started music groups and bike clubs.

In “How To Save The Bluefin Tuna,” designers Michael Dilissen and Diederik Jeangout address the conflict of over-fishing and feeble environmental laws, which have led to the endangerment of the Bluefin tuna. The duo’s popular about the tuna’s plight helped build grassroots activist movements and bolster environmental legislature.

“A conflict itself, is seldom or never viewed as something positive,” Vanbelleghem says. “However, conflict appears to be a necessary driving force for innovation; it is a fundamental element in the way in which mankind continues to evolve.” The sense of urgency and need for action that conflict creates is so often what leads to the most original and progressive work.


Conflict & Design, the Seventh Design Triennial in Flanders, is on view until March 9th.

About the author

Carey Dunne is a Brooklyn-based writer covering art and design. Follow her on Twitter.