22 Oct Design in Post-Coronavirus times
Article by Dr. Encarna Ruiz Molina, Director of the Department of Design Theory and Analysis.
For more than six months, we have been living in a convoluted and complex scenario, typical of those dystopian films that draw contexts provided by science fiction in which Humanity is faced with terrible things. The empty streets, the desolation of the figures, our confinement to our homes and the endless political discourses remind us that we live in a paradoxical, frustrating and unimaginable reality. We have been immersed for days in a kind of war where the enemy is a virus and the battle is fought in hospitals and nursing homes all over the world.
In this context, Covid 19 has been the trigger for the fall of the unstable and changing social structures that Bauman defined for us in his work Tiempos Líquidos. In just a few days, like a house of cards, this health crisis that is sweeping the planet has put the world economy, Western political leaders and the models of institutional and international relations that had emerged from the Second World War in check. The West and its hyperglobalised model of management are shaken, and with it the atmosphere of progress and well-being that they offered to citizens who today feel vulnerable and lost.
This Pandemic is presented as a global storm from which no one escapes and from which those who have invested in health and industrial infrastructure seem to emerge best. But it is also a moral hurricane that defines the different ways of understanding solidarity between different territories and sectors of the population.
On the other hand, this situation has led to an acceleration of the changes in the social narratives that had defined the first half of the 21st century. Thus, social, political and economic corporations were moving from the dictates of hyper-consumption as a system and in their way of generating products, services and experiences on a large scale. But these days of confinement and reflection, we are beginning to be more aware of our priorities and the need for change. The planet is exhausted. And we cannot continue to act in the same way. That is why those voices that said we should transform our linear economic model into a circular model are beginning to be of interest to many citizens. Social and environmental sustainability is now beginning to be a primary object, not an alternative.
Spain is experiencing a complicated situation in this atmosphere of global chaos generated by the health crisis. It is the country with the highest number of deaths per number of inhabitants in the world and the place where most health personnel have fallen ill while carrying out their duties. This has exposed our vulnerability to the virus, the unstable political structure we have seen for years and our service sector-based economy that is crippled by the Pandemic. The situation has also highlighted, on the one hand, the low investment in health and research, which are subject to different reductionist policies arising from the economic crisis; and on the other, our industrial fragility. This implies the existence of a fragile and dependent system, with little capacity for self-management and which, in a situation like the one we are experiencing, leads to manifest weakness. Thus, our productive model should be reconfigured and propose a return to local production that will help us guarantee economic subsistence in the medium term and do so, at the same time, in terms of circularity.
In this context, it would not be unreasonable to build our social story around a sustainable and local rationalism in which Design is the backbone. In this sense, Raúl Belluccia said that societies that do not incorporate Design in their way of generating products, services and experiences will find it difficult to progress coherently. In the post-coronavirus era, this discipline is a key tool that will make it possible to respond to all the needs of that society that seeks to be more efficient from an environmental, economic and relational point of view.
As a discipline defined by action, by doing things and seeking solutions to the certainties of everyday life, design is key. An example of this is the fact that, in the midst of the crisis, it has been a determining factor in seeking solutions to the lack of basic healthcare material and the failure of the State to obtain it immediately on international markets. Companies such as Seat or technological centres such as Leitat have been able to join forces to design respirators that have been manufactured in the same place where cars were produced just a few days ago. 3D manufacturing has also become a key factor in the development of visors and spectacles to protect healthcare personnel and the designs of these products have driven one of the most interesting solidarity actions we have experienced.
These are just examples of the importance of Design as a discipline in the creation of solutions and as a manager of social solidarity. If we combine both concepts, we come closer to the unquestionable social function of Design. Noberto Chaves said that it is generated because everything that Design produces is directed at and affects society, and seeks to facilitate the integration of people and solve everyday problems.
For this reason, Design must be interpreted as the mediator between a community of individuals and the socio-political system that manages it. It is therefore a discipline that is capable of proposing solutions that allow the recovery of citizen security and credibility in the system, which has been weakened by the various crises that have resulted from the Pandemic.
Design and its transformative capacity are therefore the mechanism that will help the post-coronavirus community to generate new social stories based on the search for products, services and experiences that are more supportive and sustainable. The reindustrialisation of countries like Spain, based on the logic of industry 4.0 and local production, will also have a fundamental ally in Social Design.
Dr. Encarna Ruiz Molina, Director of the Department of Design Theory and Analysis at ESDi.
 Bauman, Z. (2009): Tiempos líquidos: Vivir en una época de incertidumbre, Barcelona, Ed. Tusquets.
 Belluccia, R. (2007). El diseño gráfico y su enseñanza: ilusiones y desengaños. Buenos Aires: Paidós.
Image: More than this, Curro Claret. Photo from Juan Lemus.