The theme of the 6th edition of EXD launches an exploratory analysis on the idea of Useful. In a society increasingly obsessed with the achievement of tangible goals and material possessions, the idea of being without occupation or purpose is absurd. Worse: it is politically and socially incorrect. The apparent absence of use or purpose seems nowadays to be the secular equivalent of sin. Still, the time we spend waiting, moving from one use to another, is rapidly growing. We frantically fill any free time with shopping, communicating, keeping ourselves—apparently—busy. Anything, not to do nothing. And how does design fit into this reasoning?
If we move to the sphere of design, this notion grows more complex as useless design is an oxymoron. Design should answer a need, solve a problem. But if we look around us, how many designs don’t actually live up to their promise? Are they all wasteful? Many are no doubt, but some are as necessary as sleep is: idle time filled with dreams.
Throughout the programme of EXD’11, the idea—and the attached value judgment—of useless will be surveyed from different angles. From an economic perspective, the idea of useless questions the paradigms of industrial production, the inevitability of consumption and underlying issues of waste and sustainable development. From a cultural perspective, the idea of useless chances a look at the Western work ethos and the dogma of productivity; from a social perspective, it examines the perilous balance between objective and subjective perceptions of “worth” and “value” attached to institutions, interactions or even individuals. From a creative or intellectual standpoint, the idea of useless outlines the hidden yet overwhelming potential of experiments, “dead-end” or “failed” trials, abandoned prototypes and perplexing finds for which, apparently, no use has yet been found. EXD’11/LISBOA proposes a thorough reappraisal of uselessness.
Uselessness, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Like pure pleasure, it is disinterested. A useless experience can soothe or heighten our desire. It can lead us to debate tangible concerns, with an established scope of applicability and execution, or, alternatively inspire a symbolic, almost lyrical reflection on the significance of dimensions of intellectual and physical life such as beauty, dream and invention.