Track Chairs: Dr Beatrice Gisclard, Prof Brigitte Borja de Mozota

Short Abstract:

Whether for climate refugees, homeless people or victims of natural disasters, emergency situations are multiplying, leaving communities helpless to cope. How can design respond effectively to the challenges emergency situations precipitate? How can it help anticipate risks in order to better manage crises? Focusing on vulnerable people this track seeks to outline a new design for emergencies.



Communication flows relay a chain of disasters on a daily basis, their ubiquity can be overwhelming, preventing us from thinking about them or even prioritising them. Between health, environmental, social and political crises, we are collectively witnessing the destruction of our references (Lagadec, 2013), our ability to frame appropriate responses to these events. Natural disasters are considered even more violent because their impact is both complex and interconnected – including populations, and also infrastructures, networks and organisations. Climate change and the inability of nations to adopt strong measures to deal with it threaten life on earth – human and non-human – and demand a response that is commensurate with these global challenges. This is an emergency on a global scale.

Nationally and regionally, the struggles for economic and territorial interests generate armed conflicts, claiming many victims, and leading populations to move. But the scarcity of resources, the upheaval in ways of living and farming are leading to what Welzer (2008) calls “climate wars”. Political refugees join climate refugees on the migration path, creating tension and violence in countries hitherto relatively untouched by these crises. Actual crisis is not an isolated event but a crisis within crisis (geopolitical, health, environmental, etc.) closely linked to these systemic upheavals and who can, who should, make us realise that we have little time to react? Realise that the urgency is there, very present?

In 2007, with an exhibition “Design for the other 90%”, the Cooper-Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum invited designers to take care of populations far from the usual fields of design, those living below the poverty line, so extending the original work of Viktor Papanek. This design of emergencies is more topical than ever because it no longer concerns only distant individuals but those who share our daily lives: migrants, refugees, victims of natural disasters, homeless people, etc. This track questions the inventiveness and response capacities of designers in the face of these crisis situations as well as the integration and understanding of these major issues in their projects.

We invite participants to explore the following interrelated research questions:

  • How does taking the vulnerable, marginal and out-of-scope people in the consumer society change design project?How does the emerging field of design for emergencies relate to the field of users?
  • Do specific methods need to be mobilised and can we define design of emergencies?
  • Do emergency contexts favour or count against the development of frugal innovation?
  • What ethical questions and new forms of commitment are raised by the design of emergencies?


Lagadec, P. (2013). Navigating the Unknown, A practical lifetime for decision-makers un the dark, Crisis-Response-Journal, 2-22. 

Welzer, H. (2008). Klimakriege. Wofür im 21. Jahrhundert getötet wird. Berlin : Fisher, S., Verlag.