St Petersburg University has hosted the 13th International Conference “Design: Principles and Practices”. It was the first time that the largest event in design has been held at the University. There were over 250 specialists from more than 40 countries at the event.

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The conference was opened by Professor Tatiana Chernigovskaya, Head of the Laboratory for Cognitive Studies, St Petersburg University. She devoted her speech to the role of art in the evolution of human thinking.

Albert Einstein wrote that intuitive thinking is a sacred gift, whereas rational thinking is a faithful servant. Not all scientists will agree with him, however this thesis conveys quite precisely how geniuses think: just like artists, they live in an intuitive world.

Professor Tatiana Chernigovskaya, Head of the Laboratory for Cognitive Studies, St Petersburg University

“If we show a mathematician an elegant solution to a problem, or an artist a piece of art, and then scan their brains, we will see that the concept of beauty will have the same pattern in both cases. Art is a very special way of perceiving reality, no less powerful than science. Its evolution reflects the development of the human ability to explore the world,” said Professor Chernigovskaya.

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Professor Ivan Uralov, Honored Artist of Russia, First Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Arts, welcomed the participants on behalf of the representatives of the creative areas of study of St Petersburg University. Most of the conference guests were from foreign countries. He acquainted them with the context of the conference – with the atmosphere of the oldest university in the country and with St Petersburg, of which he was the main artist for ten years.

Our city and the University are inextricably linked. One can speak about the University as a special archipelago spread throughout the St Petersburg agglomeration, across various buildings from the 18th to the 21st centuries. These buildings remember Peter the Great and Dostoevsky, the revolution and the Siege.

Professor Ivan Uralov, Honored Artist of Russia, First Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Arts

“The brevity of your stay in the northern capital gave me an idea to become your guide and present you with a virtual tour of the city in its three states: quiet and calm, disturbing and turbulent, solemn and beautiful,” said Ivan Uralov. He prepared a presentation of three photo albums about St Petersburg: “White”, “Silver” and “Golden”. These albums comprise the works of Petersburg photographers of different generations.

Plenary sessions opened the work of each of the three days of the conference. Their speakers were the leading experts in design project development. The first day of the conference was opened by Axel Quack, Director for Strategy for the International Innovation Design Firm Frog. He told his colleagues about his experience in creating and managing business accelerators and the strategic management of Frog. Among the company’s clients are 80% of the firms from the Fortune 500 list, which is compiled from the most highly profitable American corporations.

When we talk about launching a product in the market, it is very important to remember about emotions in design: we design products that people love and need. These are, as a rule, simple things: those that you just have to press a button to work.

Axel Quack, Director for Strategy, the International Innovation Design Firm Frog

“Frog culture is based on the teamwork of designers, business strategists and technology specialists: it is this interdisciplinary approach that makes it possible for our clients to achieve the highest rates,” said Axel Quack.

Maria Stashenko is a Director of the Design Thinking Centre, co-founder of the Wonderfull Design Thinking Laboratory, and a graduate of St Petersburg University. She presented a slightly different look at design project development, and demonstrated her case study to colleagues. The case study showed how the design thinking methodology helped her team in 2012–2013 to make the Moscow metro accessible to people with disabilities.

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“In my opinion, design thinking is first of all an approach to joint activities, a set of techniques and tools designed to help solve social problems. The first questions we ask are: who will benefit from this solution? What problems can we solve? Only then we ask ourselves about possible techniques to solve this problem, and about the business component,” Maria Stashenko explained.

The approach of belt-line production, a broad division of labour cannot be applied to the service industry and to the fast-digital world in which we now live. Design thinking has brought in such tools as empathy, flexibility, the ability to make mistakes, rapid prototyping, consideration of opportunities and storytelling.

Maria Stashenko, a graduate of St Petersburg University 

Aleksandra Bobrentsova, Head of the INRU project, which implements new formats of intellectual events, shared the experience of interdisciplinary teams. They consist of designers, sociologists and anthropologists. She also presented a new project on the development of conceptual design for educational spaces, implemented by designers of universities and experts of the Union of Designers of Russia.

Ilya Utechin is an Associate Professor of St Petersburg University, an anthropologist, and a specialist in cognitive studies. He devoted his presentation to interaction with “smart assistants” – voice interfaces capable of recognising our speech. In his opinion, the developers of these programmes should use more carefully the methods of anthropological research, as the design of assistants still does not cover all the nuances of human natural speech.

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The conference also hosted an exhibition of the best projects in the field of graphic, museum, multimedia and environmental design prepared by students of St Petersburg University.

Ivan Puzyrev, Head of the AR/VR Department of the consulting company Strelka KB, spoke about the specific features of working with virtual, augmented and mixed reality. He stated that today these technologies are successfully used everywhere: from the entertainment industry to high-tech industries. At the Strelka Institute, they are used to conduct polls among residents of metropolitan cities on how to plan and transform the urban environment in the best possible way.

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The conference hosted six sections devoted to various aspects of the industry: "Design-education"; "Design in Society"; "Designed Objects"; "Visual Design"; "Management of Design Project Development and Professional Practice"; and "Architectural, Spatial and Sustainable Design". Special emphasis on the history and daily practice of the Russian design industry was made within the regional section.

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A special topic of this year’s conference was “Design + Context”. The participants discussed how the designer can build bridges between the past and the future and create a single semantic, cultural and professional space, which in turn will also influence the design practice. At the end of the conference, participants were able to publish articles in a series of scientific journals Design Principles & Practices Journal Collection, indexed in databases of research literature, including Scopus.

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