Another unforgettable vignette called “Follow” dramatizes how much technology controls our lives. Interaction designer Daniel Armengol Altayó embodies unsuspecting users by  allowing others to dictate his movements through a remote control. Sitting still on the floor strapped with VR goggles all day, visitors “activate” Altayó by picking-up a handheld device next to him. The experience of being in control of another human’s actions is at once disturbing and profound in a gallery setting, but it’s a routine tactic for UX designers trained in persuasive science with the goal of changing people’s attitudes or behaviors.

Total control.
Total control.
Image: Daniel Armengol Altayó / Museu del Disseny de Barcelona

There are promising design projects too. Ooho!, an edible, algae-baed water container offers a solution to the alarming plastic pollution currently manifested in the Great Pacific garbage patch. There’s the Refugee Nation flag that gave displaced civilians a sense of identity at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, while a luminous altar to acquaponics by the Barcelona-based start-up Ecosistema Aquapioneers offers possibilities for addressing global hunger.

Through the circuit of objects on display, visitors glean the supply chain of accountability and debate questions raised by each project. At every station is a voting panel where one can weigh in on a topic.

Image for article titled A sobering exhibit celebrates design’s triumphs and exposes its dark side
Image: Museu del Disseny de Barcelona

The notion that design can promote violence or oppression isn’t a popular idea. Design Does* co-curator Pau Garcia explains how the exhibition’s advertising riled up some local politicians. They were reacting to banners portraying how a simple clay brick can turn from a benign building block to a weapon during a riot—fearing that the image would incite mayhem. “Obviously we were not trying to empower people to get violent on the streets, that wasn’t our point,” he explains.

“But I was really happy because I thought we were starting to do what we wanted to do in this exhibition which is make people think.”

“This is what’s interesting about design,” Garcia reflects. “We cannot look at design in a very naive way.”

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