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Designing with compassion

DESIGN is not limited to how good products look; functionality is also important. At the Design Center of the Philippines, how products benefit and uplift a community’s lifestyle is also a key principle of design.

The agency presented its recent design projects during the “Future-Proofing by Design” discussion at Pasay City’s Hotel Henry Manila on March 17.

Founded in 1973, the Design Center of the Philippines is an attached agency under the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), mandated to create and maintain programs on the development and improvement of Philippine products and services, including those by small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

The agency’s projects are driven by the Filipino value of malasakit (compassion) as a pillar of good design.

In her presentation, Executive Director of the Design Center of the Philippines Rhea Matute defined designing with malasakit as “impact-driven solutions sensitive to human needs and social challenges, protecting future generations, and securing a more livable society for all.”

To promote design learning, one of the agency’s ongoing projects is the Compass Workshop Series which is an online training course focused on learning about sustainable design.

“We hope to instill a design thinking and a formal design process that takes into consideration all these key elements of economic sustainability, social sustainability as well as environmental system,” Ms. Matute said.

The program culminates with the 30 designers, creative professionals, and teachers under it, going on to educate and train others to provide design solutions for either local or global problems and challenges.

For its design services, one example is the Design Center’s Uswag Leyte program, done in partnership with the University of Santo Tomas-CCPET, where artisans use local materials such as abaca, bamboo, and tukog to make flora-, fauna-, and marine life-inspired furniture and home decor. At the end of the 2021 edition of the program, it was able to assist 38 artisans produce 80 designs which were sold in three trade events.

Meanwhile, the Kalibutan Project assisted micro-, small, and medium sized enterprises (MSMEs) in Region 7, as well as artisans from Cebu, Bohol, Dumaguete, and Siquijor. Launched during the pandemic, the program was able to assist 38 MSMEs develop 78 designs, with 24 of the products commercialized.
“It’s not just about the market dictating what the market demands, but really developing objects of meaning as well as creating systems that would impact the local community and bring out the confidence in their identity as a people, and as the identity of the province,” Ms. Matute said.

Organized by the Center for International Trade Expositions and Missions (CITEM), this year’s Sustainability Solutions Exchange (SSX) digital exhibition and conference will be held from March 23 to 25. The innovations Pinyapel and Bakong will be launched during the event, along with other Filipino products meant for export.

The water-resistant Pinyapel made with pineapple leaves as the raw material — is used in products ranging from coffee cups to paper shopping bags. Pinyapel won the country’s first Wood Pencil award, given by the UK-based charity D&AD Future Impact, in 2019.

An aquatic plant from Bangalao Lake, Cagayan, the bakong is used to develop bio-plastic, paper, and fiber. In 2021, the Bakong Circular Design Challenge developed 11 design concepts, with 18 more concepts currently under development.

In 2019, the Design Center launched The Good Design Awards. According to the award’s description, it is a national and biennial recognition system which seeks to discover works made and systems executed in the Philippines that “address social problems and enrich quality of human life.”

The first winner of the Good Design Awards’ Malasakit Award (grand prix) in 2019 was Dr. Ria Liza C. Canlas, an engineer, technologist, educator, and founder of the construction material manufacturing company Po Lite Technology, Inc. She received the award for developing eco-hollow blocks for housing.

The eco-hollow blocks use a pre-fabricated green composite, leading to 46% less carbon emissions. The hollow blocks are ready to install, and no paint is necessary. They have been tested to be five times stronger than regular hollow blocks, 64% lighter, waterproof, chemical resistant, and fire retardant for up to two hours.

“I am a woman in science and a malasakit design entrepreneur who is aspiring to become a unicorn that will evolve the housing gaps,” Ms. Canlas said during her presentation. “I will train women in construction works.”

“I think sustainability should really be imbedded in the culture of the Filipinos, especially the students since they are the next generation who will continue the practices,” Ms. Canlas said.

This year, the 2nd Good Design Awards is accepting entries until March 31. Tentatively, the initial jury session to come up with a shortlist of entries will be on April 28 to 29. The final jury session is tentatively slated on May 26 to 27, and the awarding ceremony will be on June 17. For more details, interested participants may visit https://designcenter.ph/good-design-award-ph/submission/.

“Future proofing is a mindset as well as a kind of agility not just of the mind, but also of systems. Whether you’re a business, an institution, in government, [it is about] being able to really become agile as an organization or an individual, and to really develop the skill to be able to respond quickly and to not being complacent, but really continually evolving,” the Design Center’s Ms. Matute said.

For more details on the Design Center of the Philippines and its programs, visit https://designcenter.ph/. — Michelle Anne P. Soliman