Magical Moments at #WDCD2016

What Design Can Do Conference, Day 1

VBAT Refreshing
Inside VBAT
10 min readJul 7, 2016


By Lilian Vos
Design Director at VBAT

The beginning of a wonderful exercise at #WDCD2016.

This year located in ‘Het Muziekgebouw aan het IJ’ the ‘What Design Can Do’ (WDCD) conference is now in it’s 6th edition. Although a design professional for many years now, this was my first visit.

This year the three themes of the conference were What Design Can Do for Africa, Music and Refugees. The Refugee Challenge, also part of the event, makes WDCD not only an inspirational event, but takes it into a new step of activation. In total 631 entries from 70 countries show an enormous engagement with this topic. The Refugee Challenge outcome was presented on the second day of the conference. As I only attended the first day I will not go into this further but please read about it here.

What Design Can Do opening. Source: Renata Szlachta

At the kick-off of co-presenter David Kester stated that this conference has three magical moments: the programme, the experience and the impact following afterwards.

I was curious if I would experience magical moments as well, and what those might be. So that is what my blog is about.

I must say, it was a very pleasant day for me, also to meet lots of old friends and colleagues, and it was really easy to meet and talk to new people. Inspiring! That was a bit of magic before the conference had even started… But probably that’s not what David Kester meant.

Knowing I would write a blog I took many many notes… but it is probably totally boring if I only recount these notes to you. To make it interesting for you I will instead tell you about my conference experience memories that kept popping into my mind in the days following.

(As a guide my conference memories are in order of appearance… not in the random order they popped up in my mind afterwards ;-)

Memory #1 — Tracy Metz, salty water, sweet city

Tracy Metz is an American/Dutch journalist. She has just launched a book called ‘Sweet and Salt’ about water and the Dutch. If we look at climate on a global scale there are many challenges, basically:

Too little water (Too dry)
Too much water (Too wet)

Since we had a lot of downpours in the Netherlands lately this is a topic that is very recognisable locally. Unfortunately design cannot really influence climate change, but the changes (extensive water flows or extreme drought) can challenge architects, urban planners and designers.

‘Design cannot change climate change, but water challenges architects, urban planners and designers’. __Tracy Metz

Source: ANP

Tracy talks about four strategies:

1. Bring the water in (a.o. Water squares Rotterdam)
2. Be agile and flexible (Dual function for walkway and river: de Waal Nijmegen)
3. Do it ourselves (be inventive and live sustainably)
4. Think big (dare to dream: futuristic floating cities)

Especially the water squares in Rotterdam and the bicycle path near de river ‘De Waal’ made me think a lot and inspire me. Instead of being ‘washed away’ by all the heavily rains we can find a solution for handling this in an inspiring and positive way. A new perspective.

Watersquares Bentheimplein Rotterdam. Source: De Urbanisten

Memory #2 — Michael Uwemedimo, the human city

This talk had the deepest impact on me. Tracy Metz’ talk was pretty recognisable in the Dutch wetlands, and looking from a designers perspective. The second talk took us to Nigeria where, in the city of Port Harcourt, Michael had filmed a situation like a warzone: 48.000 people with torn down houses (illegal structures, and their homes). 48.000 people with nowhere to go.

The city of Port Harcourt was found in 1912, and had an explosive growth in the 50’s, when the oilfields expanded. The social structure was overwhelmed, the city could not give a home to all people, and most of them lived in dense waterfront settlements. In the current city plans these settlements have no place any more.

Michael Uwemedimo. Image: Renata Szlachta

As an answer Michael developed, together with Simon Kennedy, ‘The Human City Project’ to give the people of Port Harcourt literally a voice and let them participate in thinking about their city. The result is that people feel heard and seen and empowered to participate and make a difference. They have built their own media centre with studio’s, they were trained to be an ambassador and make independent radio programme’s: Chicoco radio. The radio jingle literally gave me goose bumps.


We live in a beautiful glass bubble right here, and I realise how brave it is to really take a stand for something. Feeling responsible for the world around us. At the end of Michaels presentation Hadassah de Boer (co-presenter) asked Michael how he had the guts to start this. His answer was amazing: ‘I always think AS IF certain things are possible, and if not, why bother?’

‘I always think AS IF certain things are possible, AS IF…! And if not, why bother?’ __Michael Uwemedimo.

Trying to find more details about this city on Wikipedia, it turns out that the above episode is not mentioned at all. I won’t say more.

Memory #3a — Floris Kaayk, the modular body

And then for something completely different, Floris Kaayk attended What Design Can Do to talk about his music video for De Staat: ‘Witch Doctor’. Before that he had a 15 minute presentation about one of his other projects: ‘The modular body’.

‘If we can print organs and body parts, why not completely redefine and redesign the human body?’ __Floris Kaayk

The Modular Body

The modular body is made of separate 3D printed body parts of human cells. If they are connected, the hand sized body (called ‘Oscar’) actually moves!! When Floris showed the video a big ‘Aaaaaarghhhh’ was heard from the audience.

Over the last few days Oscar popped up in my mind frequently… especially when I saw people extensively ‘apping’ on their mobile… the two pink, skinless ‘arms’ of Oscar could probably do this task in the near future, saving a lot of muscle damage. Actually I totally believed Floris, thinking it was already possible (stupid). The good thing about writing about it now is that I tended to investigate it a little further. Now it turns out to be a computer animated art project, an online science fiction.

‘You could think that it is all real. But if you look a little bit further…’ __Floris Kaayk on ‘’

What this project does effect is an ethical discussion about if we should really develop and do everything that is technical possible. An interesting topic. Where does it bring us as humans? For me this already starts with the invention of a self-directing intelligent coffee machine. Does it make us smarter?

Since I now feel a bit offended that I was fooled by Floris I think he does not wholly deserve my sole third spot. Anyway, you probably stopped reading a long time ago, so I’ll just carry on with a new speaker for my memory #3.

Memory #3b — Peter Saville, Record sleeves

Peter Saville, iconic graphic design legend since the British pop-culture in the 80s, was in dialogue with design writer Rick Poynor. For me this was tremendously nice to watch, since these two truly master their act of two grumpy old men talking about the music and design of an era that most people in the audience did not witness (I must confess, I did!).

Peter Saville and Rick Poynor. Image: Renata Szlachta

Peter explained the history of post punk group Joy Division in the mid 70’s, that transformed into New Order in 1980 after their singer/songwriter Ian Curtis died. Peter Saville was a partner and designer of their record label, Factory Records. This gave him the total creative freedom to bring his personal inspirations into the designs. Or not?

The story about the design of the ‘Movement’ album (1981) was actually pretty funny. When this was about to be produced the band asked Peter: ‘What are you into this week?’

Peter answered: ‘This week I am into Italian Futurism’ and handed over a book on his table.

The band looked at it and added two Post-It notes saying: ‘Make exactly that!’

When Peter hesitated, disliking to make an exact copy, the answer was: ‘We don’t have time for you to fuck around’.

‘It was astonishingly serendipitously inappropriate, but I did it.’ __Peter Saville about the cover for ‘Movement’.

From left to right: New Order albums Movement (1981), Blue Monday (single, 1983) and ‘Music Complete’ (2015). Source: Unknown

Italian Futurism was Peter’s interest in that certain period, but he is always inspired by the culture of the man-made world. Ranging from fine-art, to architecture, fashion and product design. This also refers to the single ‘Blue Monday’ (1983). In this period Peter saw a black square plastic object in the production studio, asking: ‘What’s this?’ ‘That’s a floppy-disk’ Talking about it today: ‘I never saw one before’. So driving back home in the car he suddenly saw a huge Claes Oldenburgh size floppy disk in his head and decided that would be the new cover.

Now, a few days after the WDCD conference, I did some research in our own vinyl collection and online. Online I found that the complicated sleeve design (cut-out) of the Blue Monday single had production costs that were greater than the retail price…. and it became the best-selling 12-inch single of all time.

For the album with the Blue Monday song on it ‘Power, Corruption & Lies’ Peter added the juxtaposition of old and new: a classical painting, the floppy disk theme and the colour strips, outcome of a computer program that colour coded words (saying the bands name and the title of the album). On the entire album there is no readable information at all. The coloured strip would become the most ripped of design element in the following decades.

Front cover and inner sleeve, record and back cover, detail of the record lable. Images: Lilian Vos

When Rick asked Peter how much the music meant to him he replied ‘not much. In the mid 70’s scene music was your culture, it was just being part of a scene’. For Peter it was a way to make the objects he wanted to see in his life. Stating that nobody ever bought a record for the cover.

‘No one fucking cares what’s on the cover’. __ Peter Saville on record sleeves

Back to the vinyl collection in my house. We happen to have 8 New Order records designed by Peter Saville. My partner bought them, mostly in the 80s, so I asked him the question, ‘Did you buy them for the music or for the sleeves?’ Peter was right, he had bought them for the music. As far as I am concerned though I prefer the sleeves!

A long yellow table, a piano and metres of film

Of course I heard many more things on the day that were interesting, refreshing, boring, mind twisting and amusing. I will spare you all details.

To finish I’d like to talk about one more thing though: the afternoon breakout session I attended: ‘What Design Can Do for Music’. It was organised by the agency I work for, VBAT. A few days earlier at work I had seen my colleague Graham, our Creative Director, testing two 16 mm film projectors but that was about it.

So now I discovered in the very back of the Muziekgebouw, in the studio, a long ‘yellow clothed’ table, a piano, metres and metres of celluloid film and the two old 16 mm film projectors. A table full of bleach, pens, brushes, spray-paint, stickers, knives and cloth stood nearby.

At the start of the breakout session Graham introduced Marcus Lyall (filmmaker) and Joep Beving (composer and pianist). In this breakout session the audience was invited to ‘hands on’ make a film for Joep Bevings piano piece ‘Zoetrope’. Marcus explained that this was exactly the way he started making films: working on the original celluloid material.

In the following hour or so, Joep played the piano and all participants worked enthusiastically, chatting and experimenting together at the same time. This was a wonderful experience. All participants were very happy to get their hands dirty, design, and draw and scratch and listen to Joep’s beautiful music. We now know: it takes 24 frames for one second of film!

Breakout session What Design Can Do for Music. Image top right: Marcus Lyall. Image down left: Joep Beving. Source: Daisy van der Genugten

At the end of the session, the first results of our hand craft were spliced together and projected while Joep played the piano. The room was entirely dark, all participants stood silently around, listened to the music and gazed at the first edit of the film we just had created together. This will sound cheesy, but for me this truly was a magical moment.

‘This will sound cheesy, but for me this truly was a magical moment’. __Lilian Vos.

The first result of our handcraft. Image: Daisy van der Genugten.

Looking back

When I recall the ‘magical-moments’ checklist of David Kester (the programme, the experience and the impact following) I must admit that the conference has made a difference for me. When I look back on the themes, being Africa, Music and Refugees, I must say that those are pretty differing topics, which for me did not really blend together in the programme. But my perspective changed, and I think that’s a great result from visiting the What Design Can Do conference for only one day.

Zoetrope. A creative concept by VBAT about What Design Can Do for Music, in collaboration with Marcus Lyall and Joep Beving.

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written by Lilian Vos
Design Director at VBAT
edited by Connie Fluhme



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