Suchitra Sheth spoke on 'Designing Modern India: Gandhi as Design Activist'. The paper examined how Gandhi 'created a complex web of visual symbols, products and institutional systems' focusing on the 'Salt March' campaign of 1930. Look out for her paper which should be available on the conference website soon.A problem for some of the activists presents was the extravagant amounts of food and the heavy meat content in our lunches and dinners. A little thought about the politics and ecology of food is necessary. Although conferences are terminally unsustainable due to carbon intensive nature of the gathering, food is one of the easiest things to change. The conference ended with a discussion by Cameron Tomeron, Damien White and Karen Pinkus chaired by Clive Dilnot about Tony Fry's work the current de-futuring state of design, stuck in a system of structural un-sustainability. Some of us had already assumed a role of presenting the ecological situation that is so keenly avoided in design, but this panel examined the environment crisis in its most serious and logical implications. They thrashed out the critique of liberalism and pluralism presented by Fry. Damien White discussed problems with Fry's apparent top-down approach to solutions. Design has been complicit with the creation of de-futuring conditions - can it change? Fry's notion of re-directed practice holds potential. Existing institutions cannot deliver the kinds of change we need to make - what role can design play in creating new social institutions and forms of democracy? Meanwhile, how can designers deal with the lack of agency that accompanies the racketing up of apocalyptic themes? My only regret was that I stayed out far too late the night before so I regret not being able to present a more thorough review of this session.The final keynote speaker was Laura Kurgan whose work on maps includes 'million-dollar blocks'. Here communication design engages with complexity and the development of spatial thought. Maps are interpretative representations of data - there is no such thing as neutral data in communication design. In the process of making information from raw data we necessarily make strategic decisions on which data to highlight. This is an important theme for the blossoming field of information design.
Drinking strong coffee outside the conference at 9am on the final day I was approached by two young activists who explained they were part of the 'Fuck for Forests' group. The group raises money from sex to stop the destruction of the rainforests in Tasmania and the Amazon while simultaneously confronting the legacy of repressive sexual attitudes: 'Our bodies, sexuality and nature are under suppression. FFF wants to reclaim nature & sexuality and show a sex positive culture. We need pleasure, not power!' They set up at the entrance to the conference and there was then an interesting merging of worlds as the design historians and design activists confronted these two young FFF activists.In fact the merging of world was a feature of the entire conference. The combination of two communities, design activists and design historians was a fertile mix. Design historians have cultivated a discursive space for their field and the potential is now for design activists to develop a community of practice. A little support is needed, but there was a real desire to bring forth some sort of outcome. Stay tuned and get in touch if you are interested. The Design History Society's conference next year will be in Brighton on the theme of sports in material culture. From the point of view of an environmentalist living in London, few things could be as de-futuring as the Olympic Games. I hope that ecology is not a subject that is considered to be 'accomplished' by the Design History Society in their engagement with social and environmental activism at this conference. Thanks to the Design History Society for sponsoring my attendance.