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DDW21 theme: The Greater Number

13 April 2021

Giancarlo De Carlo (centre) with student protesters at the 14th Milan Triennale, 1968 ©Architecture and Education
For 2021, Dutch Design Week (DDW) has chosen the overarching theme of 'The Greater Number', the quest for the better number. With this theme, DDW on the one hand calls for less. Less consumption, less production, and therefore less waste. On the other hand, we know less isn't always possible and that when it comes to more, it should be better. In other words, more sustainable products with more value, so that consumers deal with products differently. The theme is about striving to change the behaviour of consumers and manufacturers. By looking for renewed value between consumer and product, we can move towards changes in design practices.

A lot of research has been carried out in recent years on the importance of well-being in relation to economic growth. The research shows that well-being is seen as more important than economic growth. How much importance should be attributed to economic growth as the driving force behind daily life? Can it be otherwise? For decades now, more has been produced than is needed. Anything can be cheaply bought online through websites like Alibaba or AliExpress. Just one click, and it's at your doorstep. But have all these things led to a better and happier society?

The pandemic

Is the path we want to take after the corona crisis the same one we've been taking in recent decades? That's the question a lot of people have been asking themselves over the past year. The current Corona crisis has prompted us to reflect on our thinking, our habits, and constant economic growth. More and more people think that this could be the time for a big change and a new perspective. They want to break with this blind focus on economic growth and are ready for a different system that is more focused on well-being and happiness.

Wellbeing economy

For several years now, Scotland-based political economist Katherine Trebeck has been advocating a ‘wellbeing economy' in which quality of life, not the economy, is central. She advocates different political choices, different rules, a different tax system, and a different organisation of labour. "Cities have to be designed differently. Not only by providing better walking and cycling infrastructure, more meeting places and more green spaces but also by protecting public spaces against the intrusive presence of advertising. And getting local governments, schools, and hospitals to buy more from local suppliers," said Katherine.


Less is also more when it comes to climate change. The pursuit of constant economic growth is at odds with climate goals. Various scientists have sounded the alarm. Human activities are clearly having an increasingly negative impact on the environment. This ultimately also affects humans: from rising sea levels to fish full of microplastics, for example. The constant focus on economic growth seems to be casting an ever greater shadow over our daily existence. In the Netflix documentary A Life On Our Planet, David Attenborough warns that the climate crisis in 2021 is no longer about "saving the earth because of the observation that animals and nature will become extinct, no, there is a much more urgent problem. "Climate warming has now become a direct threat to human survival".


The Greater Number also refers to the growing importance of inclusivity in and for the design world after all. This is not only about the dominance of one specific group in the industry, being highly educated white men, but mainly also about the designs that enter the market. There is a growing awareness that design is by no means as neutral and objective as many believe. Products are not free from value judgements; they carry stories and meanings. Notions of symbolism and aesthetics, such as colour and form, differ per culture. The design process is too complex to assume you can transcend it. It is therefore important to involve various target groups in the design project, but it is perhaps even more important to put a more diverse group of designers at the helm of the design processes. After all, design is no longer the open discipline it pretends to be. The aim here should be for a greater, equivalent number!

Design field

The design field plays a key factor in the constant pursuit of economic growth. It's designers who design all that stuff, who ensure that more is produced, and more is sold. But can't they also be the solution? Can the design field see to it that less is designed? And that less is produced so that less is sold? And can the design field help ensure that what is produced is better designed and more sustainable? More and more designers are aware of this and want to make a difference. Product designers thinking about fully circular products, introducing new forms of local production, or designing products that make consumers think about the product's use and true value. Designers are critical in this exploratory, experimental phase. They can use their imagination to design a changing society.

The Greater Number 1968

The term The Greater Number originally comes from Italian architect and designer Giancarlo De Carlo. This was his theme for the 1968 Milan Triennale, for which he was the chief curator. The theme was chosen to raise the issue of the world's population rise, the conquests of modern science, and the discrepancy between Western abundance and poverty in the Third World. Because the Triennale coincided with major student protests then occurring throughout Europe, no one saw it. A large group of students saw the Triennale as the epitome of elitism and occupied the Triennale a few days before the opening, destroying the exhibitions. DDW21 is a tribute to De Carlo's themes.