Alfredo Gutiérrez Borrero is an industrial designer based in Colombia. Currently, he is an associate professor of Industrial Design at the Universidad Jorge Tadeo Lozano. Central to Alfredo Gutiérrez Borrero’s design work is examining Western design equivalents across cultures, ultimately working to discover and improve the visibility of the traditions that Western professions have projected a shadow on. At the moment, he is also finishing his PhD dissertation on indigenous design equivalents in New Zealand and Bolivia, and he recently won a grant for a project, in collaboration with Arizona State University, titled “Enabling Autonomous Design Processes in Colombian Post-Conflict Societies”.
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Pluriverse Publication Chapter: Alfredo Gutiérrez Borrero
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Twenty-five years ago, Alfredo Gutiérrez Borrero worked at the Departamento Administrativo del Medio Ambiente (DAMA), Bogotá’s municipal environmental department. One day, a friend of Gutiérrez Borrero’s, an industrial designer at Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, invited him to give a lecture about ecology and design. At the time, Gutiérrez Borrero claims that he had little knowledge of either topic, but he clearly made a positive impression because following his presentation, the Dean of Industrial Design at the Universidad Jorge Tadeo Lozano invited Gutiérrez Borrero to teach an ecology class. At this moment, Gutiérrez Borrero saw his life changed as this ecology class opened a door to design. He began teaching ecology and design, or “eco-design” and has for several years.
For Gutiérrez Borrero, identity is “the pattern that repeats itself in the ways of acting, of doing by some peoples and communities”. As a 52-year-old Colombian man from Bogotá, he feels as though his identity as a designer clashes with the Colombian stereotypes held internationally. In addition, he feels that Latin Americans were small and relatively unrecognized in the field of design. The dominant narrative is that design was something that Americans and Europeans did and did well. Another issue is that Colombian design is often grouped with other Latin American design and not seen as its own separate, autonomous discipline within the field of design. For instance, in Victor Margolin’s World History of Design, a two-volume book with over 1800 pages, Chile, Argentina, Colombia, Venezuela, and Uruguay are grouped into one section, with only about 10 pages dedicated to Colombian design. Gutiérrez Borrero believes that Colombian design is worth much more than 10 pages. At the beginning of his career, Gutiérrez Borrero felt that the field of industrial design in Colombia had fallen into a culture of “copy-and-paste” from Western design that was perpetuated by those managing Colombian industry. Recently, however, Colombian designers have taken some of that lost control back and have started promoting autonomous design and developing different design curriculums. For example, Universidad de Ibagué, a university that Gutiérrez Borrero is affiliated with, has developed a regional design program that educates designers to address the problems and necessities of Ibagué and its residents.
Examining “Western design equivalents” across cultures is central to the work of Gutiérrez Borrero because Western professions have continually projected the shadow of their knowledge over others, making the knowledges and traditions of others invisible. Comparing his work to archaeology, Gutiérrez Borrero is working on several projects to discover and improve the visibility of these traditions. He is currently finishing his PhD dissertation on indigenous design equivalents in New Zealand and Bolivia. In addition, he recently won a grant for a project, in collaboration with Arizona State University, titled “Enabling Autonomous Design Processes in Colombian Post-Conflict Societies.”
A key belief in this work is that every human being has inherent design skill. Thus, Gutiérrez Borrero does not classify individuals as designers and non-designers. In fact, the word “non-designers” is problematic to Gutiérrez Borrero. Rather, Gutiérrez Borrero classifies individuals as professional designers and everyday designers. His advice for professional designers is to focus first on finding ways to understand spaces, places, and people in their own ways. Designers should have a pluralistic view and understand that every locality, space, community have their own dynamics and their own relationality. An example of how Gutiérrez Borrero incorporates these ideals in his design can be seen in his work with the indigenous, Afro-Colombian, and Paisan-Colombian communities to take back power from large-scale sugar cane companies and develop a more biodiverse Cauca Valley River. His advice for everyday designers is to first recognize that we are designers and to incorporate it into our professions. Design can be used as a base for every profession and can help us realize different ways of being and practicing within our careers.
Gutiérrez Borrero sees design thinking in a dual fashion. In one sense, Gutiérrez Borrero views design thinking as a surface-level, homogenous trend composed of simple, successful methodologies of design. In another sense, he views design thinking as an inherent component of every design exercise used by designers throughout the world, even if it’s not referred to as design thinking. To Gutiérrez Borrero, design is a practice of doing and is more about predicting the ways things will evolve before you do them, essentially thinking in advance. In fact, Gutiérrez Borrero prefers to call design thinking by other names, because of the trendy, for-profit connotation associated with it. His biggest criticism of the design thinking trend is that it has caused people to “abandon the genuine part of design thinking” by blindly following a set methodology. In all design processes, something unexpected emerges that methodology cannot capture. Designers must be able to expect the unexpected, make judgement calls, and abandon plans.
The Hello from the Pluriverse Podcast aims to open up and create a space to have conservations about the pluriversality in design.
This podcast is a project of the Design Thinking for Social Innovation Program at the Phyllis M. Taylor Center for Social Innovation and Design Thinking at Tulane University.
Executive Producer: Lesley-Ann Noel, Ph.D
Hello from the Pluriverse 2020-2021 Student Team
- Max Esperance – Podcast lead
- Natalie Hudanick and Michaeline Anglemire – Editors
- Tiwani Oseni – Communications
Hello from the Pluriverse 2019-2020 Student Team