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How design impacts your life: A Seattle festival

caption: Seattle Design Festival 2019 will bring together artists, designers and nonprofessionals
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Seattle Design Festival 2019 will bring together artists, designers and nonprofessionals
photo @ Trevor Dykstra, courtesy SDF

So, you’re rolling your large, plastic compost bin to the curb, and you wonder, "Who decided to make this thing so heavy with such a tippy lid?”

That’s one example of how designers affect your daily life. From sidewalk curb cuts to how seats are arranged on buses and light rail trains, designers make decisions that we love, hate or just put up with.

Industrial designer Surya Vanka would like his colleagues to put people at the center of their craft: to consider humans needs and desires, then integrate those concerns into functional and aesthetic choices.

Vanka, a design professor who worked at Microsoft, is among thousands of people signed up for this week’s ninth annual Seattle Design Festival. The festival originated with a group of architects, civic leaders and artists who wanted to create a platform for conversation about how to design a more human-centered city.

The multi-day event features lectures, walking tours, art exhibitions and a chance for design professionals and average citizens alike to put their talents toward solving some of our region’s big challenges: How to house the homeless, how to create accessible infrastructure, even how to design user-friendly tools like compost bins.

The festival culminates in a block party featuring interactive booths, public artworks, and a chance to give feedback to designers.

That interaction is critical for Vanka. He believes design and social equity are fundamentally linked; the more input designers receive, the better the built environment.

“It’s about activating citizen designers,” Vanka says. “Everyone is intrinsically creative. That capital is waiting to be unleashed.”

As Seattle development has ramped up, festival organizers believe it’s more crucial than ever to include significant citizen input in every design decision.

Vanka is currently working with Friends of the Waterfront to ensure full accessibility along the newly Viaduct-free Elliott Bay.

Seattle Design Festival 2019 opens Friday, August 16 and continues through August 25 at locations throughout the city.


ot in the mood for theoretical design conversations?

Check out public activation of civic spaces in real time, with the final weekend of Seattle’s Pianos in the Parks program. August 16-18.

Saturday, August 17, head to Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center in Discovery Park for Terra Nostra’s Symphony for Climate Change, offering free dance and music performances with a focus on climate change, starting at 4 p.m.

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