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Expert Q&A: How Design Changes the World

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Shauna Levy of Canada’s Design Exchange Museum

Shauna Levy serves as President and CEO of Design Exchange, Canada’s only museum dedicated to the pursuit of design excellence and preservation of design heritage. We spoke with her last Fall on the precipice of EDIT (Expo for Design, Innovation & Technology), the museum’s festival addressing global issues, to discover how she demonstrates the importance and value of design in a way that translates into ordinary life. Here’s what she had to say. 

Q: Hi Shauna! It’s so great to be able to speak with you today, on what is surely a busy and exciting day. Tell us, what is Design Exchange up to lately?

SL: Thanks! We are thrilled to be able to finally reveal what we’ve been working on. About five and a half years ago, we launched a repositioning to look at how we could be more relevant and accessible to the world around us. We decided it was important to create content and opportunities to reach a broader audience, and we settled on festivals or expos as a unique way to accomplish that.

We feel that when you have a big message, you need a big event to share that message with the world. So, we began to dissect what a design festival could mean and decided we really wanted to demonstrate the importance of design. 

At that point, we discovered the 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations Development Program, an initiative that highlights the importance of working together with governments, corporations, and people to achieve sustainable goals worldwide. I saw an opportunity for us to demonstrate the true value of design by looking at the planet’s grand challenges. That’s how EDIT was born.

Q: Tell us a bit more about EDIT.

SL: EDIT is a design expo and festival that looks at design as a way to address global issues. It stands for Expo for Design, Innovation & Technology, and really is an edited, curated experience about the great ideas and innovation that will make the world a better place.

The overall theme of EDIT is “Prosperity for All,” with four sub-themes that were inspired by the Sustainable Development Goals: shelter, nourish, educate, and care.

Q: How do you bring that message to life?

SL: Like other cultural institutions and organizations today, we strive to find the right way to deliver a message. It’s important that cultural experiences be a two-way conversation, because the world around us is so entrenched with technology. So, an experience like our festival has to center around the culture in which it's taking place, speaking the language of the people we’re surrounded by, so to speak.

The city of Toronto, our hometown, is a great example. It’s the most diverse city in the world, so we’re telling our stories in a way that will reach all people in the city.

Q: How important is interaction to your festival?

SL: For the Design Exchange, the degree of interaction during this festival is key, so we put a lot of thought throughout the planning process into how people experience EDIT. We’re not just interested in having rows and rows of didactic panels without some kind of experience incorporated into it. We really want people to get their hands dirty, to roll up their sleeves as they play and experience things. By giving people this experience, we’re helping them to absorb information much more easily.

Q: How are you partnering with Freeman to bring this vision to life?

SL: One of the greatest experiences we've had throughout this process of creating this festival has been the way in which so many partners have come together to make it happen. Working with a company like Freeman enables us to pool resources from multiple cities and parts of the world to make something sensational happen. It's been an incredible partnership and moment for us.

My professional background is in trade shows and consumer events, so I recognize Freeman as a leader in the trade show world because of how they approach projects and create unique experiences. It was very clear to us that Freeman would make a great partner to help us achieve our goals.

Q: How does EDIT contribute to the Prosperity for All messages you’ve talked about? How does sustainability fit into the design?

SL: Sustainability is a critical issue facing the world today. So, when we began to think about our project, it was important to consider sustainability in every aspect of the project. We incorporated structures that were reusable and multifunctional, recycled where possible, composted food waste, used digital communication in place of print and other initiatives. Freeman and Bruce were critical in helping to bring this all to life and ensuring that the exhibit would be reusable, recyclable, and as sustainable as possible. 

Q: How will you measure the impact of the event?

SL: This is a question I ask myself all the time! It’s exciting to see thousands of people come through EDIT and be inspired and excited about the world around them. The big question, is what they do with that information afterwards? Perhaps they volunteer, create something, or take action in their own community. Those are the questions we follow up with after a festival.

We feel it’s really important for us to leave a legacy, so we plan to work with organizations in the future to ensure our messages continue on.

Q: What excites you most about your festival?

 SL: When I first found out about the Sustainable Development Goals, I thought of them as design challenges. Our festival makes it clear that there are some serious problems in the world today, but there are also major solutions. That’s what is so exciting to me – despite the negative news we are constantly bombarded with, we are far better off than we were because of the innovative work being done all over the planet. The power of technology is that it creates the ability for all of us to work together to find these solutions. That’s the message I want people to walk away with from this exhibit. This is super exciting.

Q: Thank you for taking the time to speak with us today. We’re really excited to see where your projects lead!

SL: Thank you so much, I look forward to it too!

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