Better World X Design Conference 2016

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Behnia Rahmati October 18, 2016

Before my journey to the Better World X Design Conference in Providence, Rhode Island, I told my friends I was looking forward to visiting New York for the event. What I didn’t realize was that Rhode Island was its own state – and not LONG Island!

Because I knew so little about the geography, I was inspired to do some more research around the conference to better prepare myself for the days ahead. I discovered that the presenters for BWxD were a group of students, and I immediately appreciated that all the work around the conference was put on by peers.

Upon arriving in Providence (yes, I made it to Rhode Island), my dear host Kelly (a student from Brown University) arranged for my stay in her dorm. She welcomed me with open arms! I saw this beautiful port city in front of me, where everything looked so different from Pasadena. As I explored the neighborhood around Brown University, I got a chance to talk to students from Lebanon and Palestine, while waiting for my Shawarma sandwich! It was a great icebreaker to say where I was from and why I was attending the conference. Even when I met people outside the conference venue, everyone was interested in talking and comparing their viewpoints about the issues that affect us all. 


As a design student, I thought this conference would focus on products and architecture: how we built things, how we should make things that are environmentally sustainable, etc. However, I found myself in a diverse group of people from various disciplines who share the similar concern about what’s happening around us, and how and why should we care about it. The kick-off talk was on the subject of biology, a topic that I don’t usually find myself interested in. But I learned that science and communication can go hand-in-hand. Did you know that scientists are designing with DNA to resemble the smell of roses?

I was continually surprised to sit and talk with people whose projects share a lot of common aspects with those of Designmatters. I met designers from MICA (Maryland Institute College of Art) who were familiar with ArtCenter, so I able to engage in deeper conversation and learn about their way of thinking — and approach to design — when it moved out of the studio to a social context. On the other hand, I met people that didn’t know much about me or ArtCenter! But, we connected through conversation and shared experiences around immigration to the United States and how we merged into society and grew as human beings.   


I was excited to share how my latest project at school, Safe Niños, took the approach of responsible design when we went to Chile and created innovative healing spaces for pediatric burn survivors at COANIQUEM. Later I sat through a fascinating presentation by Cesar Hidalgo from MIT Media Lab about the future of learning. He pointed out how we are similar to ants: individually we are stupid, but together we can do great things! I left the conference hoping for the future of our world and a new collective way of caring and living together. 

Click here to read the companion blog piece written by Environmental Student Allie Kollias.

Behnia Rahmati is an Environmental Design student & creator based in Los Angeles, California. He is interested in space, the relation between departure and destination.

This opportunity was made possible in part by support from the Designmatters Educational Program Grant from the Autodesk Foundation.