The best of the 2015 Better World by Design conference

The Better World by Design conference took Brown and RISD’s campuses by storm last weekend, bringing 700 attendees and volunteers together to hear from 50 incredible presenters. BlogDH had the honor of covering the three-day event from start to finish, and we live tweeted and intagrammed at you to share in the fun. Now that we’ve recovered from speaking in buzzwords like “design for social innovation” and “disruptive design,” we present to you a round-up of some of our favorite keynotes and workshops at the conference.

The conference opened on Friday with a presentation given by Annie Wu, a RISD alum and employee of Greater Good Studio in Chicago. Wu’s presentation centered on the principle of applying human-centered design to the often neglected, “unexotic underclass,” or those who lie outside the realm of the privileged upper-class that many startups tend to target. Drawing on successes and failures in her own work at Greater Good Studio, Wu’s message encapsulated the conference’s theme of access and perfectly set the tone for the events to come.

Later that day, RISD graduate Elio Icaza (’15) led a workshop on a project he’s been working on called Clear Canvas. The products of Clear Canvas are designed to help students collaborate in art and science classes. The workshop involved a clear white board, with a participant seated on other side. The participants would have to work together to draw an object, an idea or an emotion without talking. The workshop stressed mindful collaboration. By being able to see the person on the other side, the participants learned to respond to each other. This workshop was a lot of fun.


Gavin Atkinson (Brown ’13, RISD ’15) and Lukas Winklerprins (Brown ’15.5) ran a workshop titled “Speaking in Brick – Lego as a Creative Tool”, where participants used legos to explain a community they were a part of and a mental state. The workshop was inspiring, as it allowed participants to formulate and express their ideas despite different points of view.

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Later that night, we squeezed into yellow buses and headed to the conference’s first party. We were taken to Providence’s Steel Yard, an industrial-complex-turned-creative-community (if you can’t get into that RISD class, try a Steel Yard workshop in blacksmithing, jewelry, etc.). Covered with welded metal sculptures, life-size Bananagrams, and every local food truck, the space perfectly reflected the tone of the weekend. Small talk around the bonfire quickly devolved into discussions about social entrepreneurship, design, and how the Steel Yard is the coolest venue on this side of the Narragansett.


On Saturday, Imram Hafiz led a workshop on “Mechanism Design and Documentary Filmmaking.” Hafiz wanted to find a way to make social change as a young person, and realized politics wasn’t the most efficient way to do that; instead, found his place at Vice Media as an author, filmmaker and “futurist.” He has worked on documentaries on an incredible range of topics for the online publication, from the weed industry in Israel to the future of sex. At his workshop, we acted as producers, working in groups to come up with pitch for a documentary film on an environmental issue and people working on a solution. After 40 minutes of discussion and research (read: Googling), groups pitched ideas from how to clean up space debris to dealing with non-native pythons in Florida forests. The workshop pushed the attendees to do real-world thinking: after our pitches, Hafiz urged us to now “go out and make those films — people need to see them.”

Over lunch that same day, attendees had the opportunity to explore the Student Expo. From 12:30 p.m.-2 p.m., Sayles Hall was packed with tons of various student organizations, from start-ups to social action initiatives and everywhere in between.

The Student Expo at this year's Better World By Design conference

The Student Expo at this year’s Better World By Design conference

Later that afternoon, a panel titled “Nature // Society – Biomimicry and Design” was held in Salomon. The talk, featuring four distinguished panelists well versed in the world of biomimicry, provided excellent insight into the growing field. By the end of the panel, viewers were provided a clear understanding of the term–for the layman, biomimicry refers to the concept that sustainable solutions to problems presented by the growth of humanity can be found in the processes of nature–as well as an introduction to both its many nuances and its place in modern society looking forward.

Sunday’s Closing Panel gave participants a glimpse into the past and present forms of Better World by Design. The panel included Tino Chow (RISD ‘09), BWxD Professional Advisor Andy Cutler, Design Strategist Marc O’Brien, Brown University faculty member Ian Gonsher, consultant and Brown University School of Engineering board member Deb Mills-Scofield, former committee chair Anna Plumlee (’15), and the current BWxD committee chairs Paulina Tarrant (’16) and Andres Chang (’17). The takeaways: people involved with BWxD have gone on to do awesome things. The event inspires students to design projects that aren’t for a grade but instead have community impact. If you missed the event this year, be sure to attend next year.

Images via Albie Brown ’16, Erick Guzman ’16, and Kevin Haggerty ’18.

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