Last week was a special week for me. Not only did I reach one of those scary ages that end with a large zero but also got to visit my home country.
It was the Design Week in Turkey and I was invited as a guest. It is always an honor no matter where you get invited. Though, this time I had the extra honor of being a jury member for Design Turkey Awards which I also was involved in the making of. Of course I was one of many that worked on this Herculean task but thinking about the rules and process was a mind-bending experience even as a member in a group.
Turkey is — and always been — in the heart of an unstable region. It was always on the verge of something. Never at rest and never at complete peace. Which also makes it a country that is dynamic, young, tough and hungry for success.
To see my native country only a few months after a failed coup attempt with such grace and hope was awe-inspiring. I also was very happy to see so many international jury members and speakers joining from all over the world. They seemed to be enjoying Istanbul fully as well as the fireworks of creativity from all around us.
The design week consists of Istanbul Design Biennale, Istanbul Design Week and Design Turkey Awards, as well as many other side events that paint the city to vivid colors. Of course, the design week is still not at the same scale as London or Milan but the increase in scale, content and interest in less than a decade was simply spectacular.
The most important and significant aspect of the Design Week Turkey was the fact that it was sponsored directly by the Ministry of Economy. Now, many people has a wide range of opinions about the government in Turkey but whatever you say about the politics, the fact that a Minister of Economy spared his time and focus for a design event is significant by any measure. His speech touched a wide range of subjects but honed in on the undeniable value of design. He recognized important Turkish designers around the world such as Murat Gunak who lead the design language of Peugeot and VW Group, as well as Ayse Birsel who created some amazing office furniture for Herman Miller. Turkey wants to create 10 global brands by 2023 which coincides with the first centennial anniversary of the Turkish Republic. It is an ambitious goal. But not impossible.
On Saturday, I was invited to talk to a large crowd in a panel about the values and the future of design. It was the last event of the design week and also maybe the most difficult topic of all. What really is the value of design? And why should we care about the future of it. I know the moderators don’t like it but I prepared a presentation anyway. It started as a cheat sheet for me but it turned out to be a great conversation-starter for this tough topic.
As I researched more into the subject, I started to learn more that the added value of Industrial Design might actually be measurable. Did you know that 54% of UK’s exports come from design and innovations closely tied to design? A new metric I learned was ‘dollars per kilo’ especially for developing countries. It measures the value of exports by how much they cost compared to their weight. Funny, if you think that the delta between two equal goods with differing prices is simply design or innovation. Overall, it was a stimulating but grounded panel that made me think about some issues deeper as a panelist.
Back to Wednesday. I was hopeful and truly excited as I sat among the large audience during the award ceremony and saw young designers accepting their awards with the biggest smiles I have seen in my life. Suddenly, I felt a warm optimism growing as I thought about how political differences divided the crowd invisibly but it seemed for a moment that all 1900 people in that audience united around a common cause and forgot about ideologies. I know that no issue should be strong enough to divide a nation and — in my heart — I know that it takes much more than politics to push a divide into a country with so deep roots and a fantastic drive for success.
All photos courtesy of Design Turkey Secretariat & Dream Design Factory.