At the intersection of design and poetry

About two weeks ago I was approached by the Association of Designers of India (ADI) to help organize an opening event for the 15th Pune Design Festival, befitting its theme: “NOW”. The conference theme evoked an immediate visceral reaction in me. I was inspired to translate that feeling into a poem. I suggested to the ADI that my friend and the CEO of the Sea Change Design institute Lauralee Alben and I would take our ongoing dialogue of the past several months about the intersection of poetry and design to the opening event. It would be an appropriate provocation during a global pandemic.

During the pandemic many of us have become concerned about the ripple effects of the pandemic on human life. This focus on NOW is unusual from the past when we relied on the the past or the future to draw our sense of purpose and meaning of life. Today, we have become more conscious that our connections and interdependence makes us feel both supported and vulnerable. The pandemic has brought us a reminder that we are nature’s creation and that we must understand, respect and operate within the rules set by nature. E. F. Schumacher, a German-British statistician and economist who is best known for his proposals for human-scale, decentralized and appropriate technologies once reminded us of nature’s design ,

“The system of nature, of which man is a part, tends to be self-balancing, self-adjusting, self-cleansing. Not so with technology.” E.F. Schumacher

So, how might we use the pandemic induced awakening and realization of connection to nature and to each other as a foundational principle for humanitarian and ecological approach to design? How might we use this unique opportunity brought to us through the pain and suffering of the pandemic as a vehicle to cultivate curiosity, compassion and creativity?

This is where the intersection of poetry and design came into our discussions. There is so much to learn from the influence poetry has on human development and cognition and to apply that understanding to design. At one point during our dialogue at the PDF I asked the audience to close their eyes and remember the first poem recited to them by their parents or grand parents. The effect was magical. One of the audience members later wrote to me,

“Remembering ‘first poem’ you ever heard — was a self connecting experience for me. It made me remember my parents and their love. Thanks @⁨Uday Dandavate⁩ for taking us away from the conference and then bringing us back. 🙏🏼”

Indeed, poetry has a nurturing and transcendent effect on us. The poems recited to us by our parents and grandparents even before we learned to talk or crawl has guided our sense of being. The words, the sounds, the tunes and the rhythm entered our subconscious and formed a memory that we will continue to cherish and pass on to our children.

Over four decades I have nurtured childlike curiosity which was inculcated in me during my the foundation year of my design studies. The child in me created openness, awakening and consciousness in me, which inspired me to write a book of poems last year. Poetry allowed me to interpret the universe and my relationship with it in terms of metaphors. Writing Poems has evoked in me images and sensations that feel more primal and authentic than logically constructed, data driven, insights and narratives I often develop from research. The readers of my recently published book of poems have told me that reading these poems creates hope and healing. This discovery of the impact of poetry has taught me a lesson- that today the world is in dire need of healing and regeneration. It gives me a sense of challenge and a purpose: How might we create a new space for innovation and transformation at the intersection of poetry and design?

Poetry offered me a vehicle through which to give design back to people. I have learned that design neither begins nor ends with designers. It begins in social imagination and continues to evolve much after it leaves designers’ and producers’ control when people live with it and change it to suit their needs. What is more important to people is how they want to design their life. The products we design are only the props they use to bring the meaning of life alive.

Poetry has allowed me to trigger, prod and provoke social imagination. It allowed readers to develop a fresh perspectives for designing their own lives. So, how might we incorporate poetry in the design process?

Lauralee Alben has been active in this mission for a long time. Her team at Sea Change Design Institute believes,

“ Design is the conscious planning and meaningful action that creates relationship with humanity, spirit, nature, and time — in service of life.”

The dialogue at the Pune Design Festival gave us the opportunity to change the design discourse and give the audience an opportunity to consider the importance of the times we are living in Now. My take aways from this dialogue were

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