By Kara Ortiga via The Philippine Star/Young Star | August 19 2011

It seems today is really the age of design. The value of the arts and good design are beginning to be recognized since the push for a bill by Senator Teofisto Guingona III suggesting the creation of a Design Council of the Philippines, with hopes that it will utilize design as a tool for economic growth and social innovation.

The mantra of “design for social change” is not new. I have heard this elsewhere recently, from Clara Balaguer, president of The Office of Culture and Design, whose main business involves cultural projects with social angles through arts and design. She noted that we have an incredible amount of talent and resources in the Philippines, but the problem is that no one is investing in it. She pinpointed China, whose ventures into architectural design have changed their country’s face before the world, thereby positively affecting their economy. We spoke about this last April.

Cut to present time and I find out a bill is already being processed for the creation of a design council, to be funded by the government, with goals of lasting social change. Maybe it’s just a coincidence, or maybe it’s really due time for the rise of design.

Design Para Sa Lahat

It’s an overcast Tuesday afternoon in Manila on the way to the first Senate hearing to discuss the proposal for the Design Council of the Philippines. Arriane Serafico, creative communications officer of Senator Guingona, says progress is moving fast in the government machinery. Some renowned local designers and strong advocates of the bill such as Amina Aranaz-Alunan, Kenneth Cobonpue and Brian Tenorio are present, alongside some representatives from various design and arts colleges, and some from government agencies such as the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), the Center for International Trade Expositions and Missions (CITEM), and the Intellectual Property Office (IPO).

It’s amazing how the Design Council concept all started with a tweet from Jowee Alviar, co-founder of Team Manila. “How can we collaborate with the Senator for the local creative industry?” he asked Arriane, 23, in less than 140 characters. And the rest, as they say, is history.

“In other countries, design is being tapped as a strategic tool to improve life, be it in delivering better health services, more sustainable urban design, better and more cost-efficient infrastructure for public areas and slums. Right now, in the Philippines, the beneficiaries of design are still largely confined to the business sector such as companies and enterprises. But I believe what needs design solutions the most is our government,” says Arriane.

The draft of the Senate bill states that the Design Council’s functions would include: spreading culture nationwide; the use of design as a tool for problem solving in the country; boosting the competitiveness of our design industry; and building a national identity.

Brand Conscious

Brian Tenorio, creative director of the Asian Development Bank, cites that one important function of the Design Council would be to establish our Philippine brand, for the sole reason that we do not really have one. “If you Google ‘Philippine brand,’ the first thing that will come out is the Philippine Brand mangoes being sold at Wal-Mart in the United States,” notes Brian in frustration. He adds that the Philippines’ rank has gone from 35 in 2009 to 68 in 2007 in the Futurebrand index. “Our country brand, the ‘Philippine brand,’ is attached to our professionals and manpower sent abroad. It’s also attached to our products and our islands, which tourists visit. The Filipino brand is an asset, just like any corporation or any business entity would have.” He says that having a Design Council would set a clear vision and roadmap for the creative sector and design industry in the Philippines, a massive move never attempted at this scale, but one that will also promise big changes.

Portents of Change

As for proof that design can truly create social change, designer Amina Aranaz-Alunan uses the example of the story of Rags2Riches Inc., a for-profit social enterprise making recycled fashion pieces out of those rainbow weaved rags. “These floor mats made out of scrap fabrics once sold for P50 each, could suddenly be sold for up to P3,000 each. In just three years, 30 women of Payatas grew to 450 women who were given a steady source of livelihood, income, pride and self-worth. This is an example of the transformative power of design and innovation. Imagine what we could achieve, and how many lives we could improve, if we could systematize this and replicate it a hundredfold?”

Jowee Alviar adds that the visual power of artworks has a stronger effect on society today. He notes how Team Manila created poster campaigns of different tourist destinations during the time of the “Pilipinas kay ganda” controversy, and how these well-designed graphics became viral and could’ve helped the Department of Tourism. He also adds how Team Manila helped the COMELEC communicate their voters’ education program more effectively. Jowee also states how Team Manila’s infamous image of Jose Rizal wearing sunny aviators printed on T-shirts “inspired a new wave of nationalism among the youth.”

The push for the creation of the Design Council and the thought of a working tandem between designers and the government seems to be a timely cause, and one that is long overdue. We live at a time where design and aesthetics are incredibly influential and the idea of art needs to be commercialized in order to create solutions for development. The Design Council will not only be a problem-solving machine, but the progressive national strategy hopes to make us a competitive leader in the ideas-driven economy. It will bring design to the streets, for the people, and become a better communication tool in a country that is so heavily bombarded with useless images every day.

It’s about time that we give way to the rise of design.