Made for IED Barcelona

Deflexor 2033


1 August 2018

In the last few days alone, the news circuit has featured a series of baffling stories: the US president Donald Trump implied he had more faith in Russian president Vladimir Putin than his own country's intelligence agencies (only to back-pedal on the statement later); wildfires have been raging within the Arctic Circle as a record-breaking heatwave continues to parch large swathes of northern Europe; and one of the world's most successful tech entrepreneurs, Elon Musk, has been involved in bizarre mudslinging battles with a British cave diver and a Colorado-based potter. Current global socio-political, environmental, and financial affairs certainly paint a disorientating picture.

In the face of such disarray and confusion, a team of researchers at IED Barcelona, led by the school's director Alessandro Manetti, have been working to synthesise a number of staggeringly complex global tendencies into a series of flow chart-like maps under the project title Deflexor. The latest such map, Deflexor 2033, focuses on global tendencies which might impact design education, and can be found in Fifteen of Fifty, a book celebrating 15 years of IED Barcelona, and 50 years of the IED group. "The point was to reflect on the future of design and design education through visual synthesis," explains Manetti. "The map should guide the whole community of the IED schools through scenarios in which design could play an interesting and strategic role."

Central to Deflexor 2033 map are six so-called macro trends: "Rapid Urbanisation and Alternative Energies Transition", "Changing Business Volatility and Global Economic Power Shift", "Hyperconnectivity and Accelerating Technologies and Material Adoption", "Standardisation and Personalisation", "Governance System Crisis and Climate Change Crisis", and "Demographic Boom and Population Ageing". Manetti and his team arrived at these macro trends by researching extensively, both by consulting reports from companies and organisations such as Ernest & Young and the World Economic Forum, and by interviewing professors and tutors from IED Barcelona's six design schools: the Design School, Fashion School, Visual Communication School, Tailor Made School, Masters School, and Management for Creative Industries School. "It’s been an interesting opportunity to work with our community," says Manetti. "We're hoping to develop this map into an innovation tool for businesses and organisations."

Deflexor is an acronym-cum-portmanteau of "Design Expansion Flowing Organism" and is currently not so much a map for finding solutions as it is a flexible model for understanding future challenges. "For me a challenge is a 'problem-opportunity' that designers can deal with and even offer micro-solutions to," says Manetti. The areas of human activity on which Deflexor 2033 touches are vast: "Society", "Population", "Environment", "Market", "Technology", and "Culture" are the six so-called layers which help organise the chart and undergird and interact with the macro trends. Specific issues that come out of these interactions include everything from "automation and AI" to "food waste reduction", and "sovereign debt default" to "falling fertility". "Of course there are a lot of issues here that concern lawmakers and politicians," says Manetti. "But I strongly believe that designers will play an important role in changing the world too."

At the moment, Deflexor 2033 helps IED Barcelona's students and staff identify areas and issues which they ought to take into consideration in their practice. But looking forward, Manetti hopes it can be developed into a more specific and incisive tool. "We’ve done some workshops to develop this as a tool to help companies and educational institutions, but it’s still at a prototype stage right now," he says. Although it has been developed with designers in mind, the Deflexor project could also potentially be used as a tool by practitioners and leaders outside the design world, suggests Manetti. "This is not design as we used to imagine it in the past, but I’m pretty sure that design thinking can be used by lawmakers and politicians to reframe the world."