By Jose Daniel Castillo via | August 11 2011

I’ve noticed that among us Filipinos (myself included) the term design tends to strike a rather exclusivist note. We seem to have this idea that things that have been designed are expensive and excessive, but more importantly that they lack in valuable, worthwhile effect.

And reasonably so, I think. Our cultural consciousness, so inexorably affected by commercialism and the American Dream that’s virtually replaced our own, seems to filter the idea of “design” down to vague notions about overpriced bags and ever-morphing gadgets.

Which is why when I first heard about “Design Para Sa Lahat”, an initiative among some of the country’s leading design proponents, it was the irony in the term that really struck me. Taken literally, the idea that design could affect us all the way down to our grassroots communities seemed not so much novel as it did sensational. Yet this is exactly what designers Brian Tenorio and Amina Aranaz, two among its major advocates, tell me.

“It’s about time we realize that design isn’t just about ‘polishing’ product,” says Brian, shoe designer turned design management expert (via Pratt Institute in New York), who is currently a consultant for branding and design at the Asian Development Bank. “True design can increase profits and employment, lessen costs, save the environment, increase national happiness, and make us more globally competitive. Design is about doing and creating more with less — and ‘less’ is something we have an abundance of here in the developing world.”

“We Filipinos are known for our innate ingenuity and creativity,” Amina agrees. “We have countless creatives getting awards and recognition around the world. Yet this is a sector that has not been fostered and nurtured by the Phil. Govt. Design is not just about ‘making things beautiful’. It is about adding value and solving problems while promoting innovation.”

In a nutshell, Design Para Sa Lahat is a movement seeking to establish an official Design Council of the Philippines — a landmark first for the country, should it succeed. Spurred on by a group of local design agents (including maverick design studio Team Manila), the initiative is championed politically by the office of Senator TG Guingona.

According to the Senator’s creative director Arriane Serafico, the Design Council will seek to develop homegrown Filipino talent and elevate these talents so that design becomes a key engine for driving economic growth and social innovation.

“To me, it’s pretty simple,” she says. “The government should not only stop at lauding the successes of say, Kenneth Cobonpue — they should make sure that they take steps to empower and lead more young people to achieve the same.”

The first of these steps seems official enough: create a law that provides legal basis for the Council. And, just a few days ago, Brian Tenorio, Amina Aranaz, and Team Manila among others  were present to support the filing of the bill. Senator Guingona spoke at the Senate, calling the Council a “response” to “times that call for an evolving mindset, for creative and proactive responses.”

Whether the bill passes or not is still months of work away, but it’s certainly sounding like the right step towards a more globally relevant Philippines.

Now I know this might be sounding like a lot of jargon, but what it boils down to is this: through these efforts, Philippine design — whether it be architecture, infrastructure, or fashion — can finally become something much bigger and maybe much more meaningful than it is today.

I think Arriane put it best when she said, “I believe what we’re really calling for is a paradigm shift. Design is mostly seen as design-design lang, when in fact, it is a sunrise industry that could really bring about very high-value economic returns.”

The implications are massive: from using indigenous textiles and materials and growing those cottage industries, to overhauling road systems and public spaces, increasing productivity, maybe even tourism — I don’t know! It’s just really exciting.

To join the movement, search #DesignParaSaLahat on Twitter, or Like them on Facebook  here.