Memefest Havana!


Change in Everyday Life: Dialogue and Critique through Design in our Times
Instituto Superior de Disegno, Havana, June 19-25, 2015.


Dr George Petelin (Griffith University, Queensland College of Art & Memefest)

Dr Oliver Vodeb (Swinburne University of Technology & Memefest)

Claudio Sotolongo (Universidad de la Habana)

Approx. 20

The five day workshop aimed at students, academics and professionals. While a communication design workshop it was interdisciplinary and welcomed students and academics and professionals from other areas as well.

The workshop had a research phase, a production phase and implementation phase. Works created (for example posters) have been implemented in the public space in Havana.

We went to Cuba just three weeks before US president Obama would re-open their embassy in Havana. Memefest was invited to Instituto Superior de Disegno, Havana to conduct a special workshop. The prospect of working with local students and academics in this special place was very attractive and the timing was exciting. We decided to focus on everyday life, the possibilities of dialogue as well as critique through design. These topics have proven to be of immense interest for the workshop participants who envisioned a changing future.


The Aim of this workshop was to establish a process for designing visual communications and situations that generate productive dialogue in response to social change.

This methodology adopted three main principles

a) that visual communications must be based on rigorous research,
b) that the research and production should be carried out collaboratively,
c) that the outcomes should be focused towards a sustainable society as well as a critical reflection on the discipline of Design in the light of its social role.


‘Change in Everyday Life: Critique and Dialogue through Design in Our Times’ adopts the premise that changes in society can be better embraced and managed through more informed, more sincere, more adventurous, more imaginative and more open communication: in short, through authentic dialogue on a human level.

Everyday life is the terrain of constant change on an intimate as well as social level. Dialogue is often displaced by advertising and propaganda colonizing everyday life.

Critical design is therefore crucial in order to establish cultures of dialogue.

The majority of communication design as practiced in western democracies serves instrumental interests of the market and is reproducing predatory neoliberal capitalism (van Toorn 1998, 2010, Vodeb 2008). In his paper, Sustainability as a project of history, Clive Dilnot states: ‘Sustainability is that which most cruelly exposes design. Nothing reveals more sharply both the necessity and inconsequentiality of design: its (absolute) necessity as capacity, and its almost complete irrelevance as a value, or indeed as a profession’ (Dilnot 2011).

Design education mostly produces designers as service providers who do not have the capabilities to seriously confront the urgent issues of radical uncertainty and environmental degradation, which are defining conditions of today’s societies.

In a historic moment of change this Memefest workshop has confronted the capitalist and socialist design paradigms and seeked generative potentials through dialogue and critique.

What is it that we can learn from Western design’s mistakes and what potential might it still have? In this light, what could be learned from Cuba’s unique perspective on Design? How can we think about dialogue and change in times when capitalism and socialism started to speak openly and publicly to each other again? What changes were emerging from this, and what changes will create sustainable economies and nurture and develop truly sustainable design practice?

With the understanding that change is a generative principle, the workshop explored how Design might make change more positive and productive through creating opportunities for dialogue in the realm of everyday life. 

Besides propaganda murals and posters as well as shopfront signs there is almost no public messaginig existing in the city. The workshop used posters, grafitty, stickers and other printed matter to communicate with the people.