Design for Philanthropy Now! The 2019 China Design Forum Opened in Shanghai

Directors of C Foundation reviewed their five-year journey.

Amid the call for “doing good things together” during the “99 Charity Day” initiative, people made donations that kept breaking records. At the same, designers were on the go enjoying the various home design exhibitions unfolding in September in Shanghai. Against this background, the 2019 China Design Forum was held, bringing together design and philanthropy on the same platform and drawing much attention to such a striking combination. 

On September 9th, the 2019 (Fifth) China Design Forum themed “Power of Design and Spirit of Philanthropy” was held during the 44th China (Shanghai) International Furniture Fair (CIFF). Over 400 designers, design students, philanthropy enthusiasts and entrepreneurs, drawn by design and philanthropy, gathered in the National Convention & Exhibition Center in Hongqiao, Shanghai to envisage a future in which design plays a part in philanthropy.

This forum is hosted by C Foundation from Shenzhen, the first voluntarily organized non-profit foundation in the design community of China, hugely supported by CIFF, and co-organized by two industry leading players, China Foreign Trade Guangzhou Exhibition General Corporation and Redstar Macalline. The forum strives to become an annual non-profit platform for design exchanges with the greatest intellectual depth and widest influence.

Design for the benefit of the society

The mission of philanthropy is to create a better world, so is the mission of design. Because of this shared mission, there exists room for design and philanthropy to join hands.

Liang Jianguo, the Executive Chair of 2019 of C Foundation, straightforwardly and pertinently explained how he understood the relationship between design and philanthropy: Design can be of unique use to philanthropy, and philanthropy can be of great value to design; design and philanthropy develop together and reinforce each other.

Kindness and beauty

Liang Jianguo, Executive Chair of 2019, C Foundation

Chen Wanghui, Deputy General Manager of China Foreign Trade Guangzhou Exhibition General Corporation, expressed his view: Themed “Power of Design and Spirit of Philanthropy”, the forum discussed and explored design and philanthropy on the same platform, put design in the context of current events and drew a connection between them, and shed light on the synergy between design and philanthropy.

Chen Wanghui

Deputy General Manager of China Foreign Trade Guangzhou Exhibition General Corporation

In his keynote speech, Jiang Feng, Director of C Foundation, led participants to think about the questions that design should answer: What a life should a person lead? What does design need to do for that kind of life? What makes a design good is not how grand the overall concept is, but the details that designers put their heart into to make people feel respected. The development of design is closely related to the era it is in. The 21st century calls for respect to the diversity of people’s lives and pursuit of a sophisticated life. Our design needs to adapt to the century and explore the essence of life. The mission of philanthropy is to create a better world, so is the mission of design, naturally philanthropy should ponder how to make design more valuable. In addition, philanthropy should help people to see and stay true to who they really are and fulfill their value. Mr. Chen Wanghui called for designers to engage in philanthropy and become innovators that leverage the power of design to address social issues.

Design for the benefit of the society

Jiang Feng, Director of C Foundation

Response and commitment

Five designers working in different fields, namely interior, architectural, industrial, graphic and artistic design, delivered speeches that elaborated on how they, leveraging the power of design, actively responded to, continuously explored and sought innovations on multiple current social issues such as community renovation, human-centered care and environmental protection. 

Mr. Xiao Aibin, Director of Design with Love and President/ Chief Designer of Xiao’s Design, shared what Design with Love did over three years to renovate communities and public spaces including village schools, village committees and children’s hospitals, drawing attention to forgotten spaces.

Design of forgotten spaces

Xiao Aibin, Director of Design with Love and President/ Chief Designer of Xiao’s Design

Dr. Jiang Bin, the Director of Virtual Reality Lab of Urban Environments and Human Health (UEHH), University of Hong Kong, took as an example villages in the city which were densely populated by workers. He emphasized that design must factor in the reality and start with light touches to small things. The so-called “light” design means creating spaces with flowers and grasses that are lively and make the habitants feel dignified. With such design, even plastic flowers can resemble blooming flowers in spring and even artistic objects bestowing wishes on people.

Participatory design of open spaces: Creating community environment that improves people’s well-being at a low cost

Jiang Bin, Director of Virtual Reality Lab of Urban Environments and Human Health (UEHH), University of Hong Kong

As an industrial designer, Yang Mingjie, founder of YANG DESIGN and YOUNG HOUSE, used project cases of One Foundation, Green Peace and HOUSE VISION, among others, to illustrate his understanding of designers’ social responsibilities: A good design should follow the principle of sustainable development and embody certain values and enlighten the public.

Design for good

Yang Mingjie, founder of YANG DESIGN and YOUNG HOUSE

Liang Jing, the self-claimed “designer that designed the most non-profit organizations” and deputy director of media communication in College of Design and Innovation, Tongji University, “decrypted” on site design thinking, particularly its application in philanthropy. He argued that the most important part was to learn and that the core was to spot issues during the process and ultimately learn to address them.

Tame thinking for design: Designers in philanthropy

Liang Jing, deputy director of media communication in College of Design and Innovation, Tongji University

Beside the stage stood a pair of huge green peacocks, made for public interests and from complete square pieces of paper without cutting or collaging by Liu Tong, an origami artist and also holder of four Guinness records.

Origami and philanthropy

Liu Tong, modern origami artist, designer and holder of four Guinness records

Mr. Liu Tong conveyed the message of environmental protection for public good via the special form of origami. He said: “I fold paper for a living, so I just concentrate on folding paper well and influence the world this way. Everybody just needs to do small good things within their capabilities, and they will add up to great good that serves public welfare. Public welfare is actually within our close reach.”

From interaction to action

Every time a guest finished sharing, the audience who had been moved by him or her could not help applauding loudly, including Directors of C Foundation who also went up to the stage to share their own thoughts and had exchanges with guests.

Seeing more and more designers pay attention to and participate in philanthropic activities, Director Qiu Deguang said that philanthropy was not a lonesome undertaking. Director Steve Leung commented that we should not only devote our own efforts to philanthropy, but also reach out to everyone else and inspire them to join us in our philanthropic endeavors.

Seeing corners of villages in the city that had been renovated with a “light touch”, Director Chen Yaoguang was effusive in his praise and said to the speaker: “You guide others with the compassion of a designer and in a beautiful way. They used to lack confidence and faith, but you breathed life into their dormant heart. You attend to every detail without fanfare or haste… What is compassion? What is a loving heart? What you did is a manifestation of compassion.” Director Sun Jianhua frankly said that he saw the aspiration of design and its universal value to the society behind design innovations and techniques illustrated by speeches.

Having learned about the application of industrial design in philanthropic projects, Director Lin Xueming argued that the principles of industrial design had a positive impact on today’s interior design; Director Liang Jinghua observed what design and philanthropy had in common: they both care about people’s life with compassion, though they seek improvement on different dimensions.

Regarding where and how design and philanthropy can converge, Director Zhang Qingping said that design can make changes, spot issues and seek modifications, just like philanthropy can. Director Ben Wu suggested that relying on one person or a few persons to be bent on an undertaking would not be sustainable, only when more people are engaged can they together proceed more sustainably and more vigorously. 

Seeing that origami art can be a special way of contributing to philanthropy, Director Chen Dejian observed delightfully that sometimes design or art could have a bearing on our whole society; Director Dai Kun added affirmatively that origami became a clever way of spreading philanthropy, a way that can expand the communication scope of philanthropy exponentially, indicating that promotion of philanthropy takes skills and professional know-how.

Towards its end, the forum climaxed with everyone present making paper green peacock as the origami artist Liu Tong showed them what to do. Some audience members were particularly absorbed as they followed the simultaneous interpreting of sign language, and they are design students with hearing impairment from the Department of Special-Needs Education from Xuhui University of Continuing Education Shanghai. Hopefully, folding the small pieces of paper into peacocks can draw everyone’s attention to green peacock, a globally endangered species, appeal them to protect green peacocks’ habitats, and raise their awareness of animal protection, environmental protection and public welfare. 

Design for philanthropy now! It is never too late for you and me to take action. Of course, the best time is now!

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