Fotografas R. Ščerbauskas
© R. Ščerbauskas

Jurate Tutlyte is an architecturologist, an associate professor at VMU Faculty of Arts, a curator of „Kaunas: European Capital of Culture 2022” creative industry section and „Flood of Design“ platform.

In „Kaunas: European Capital of Culture 2022” program you will present the concept of „Design for All”. What is it and who are the „all”?
„Design for All” is a concept, an idea based on universal design principles, that unites global, and especially European design practice and theory which revolves around adjustment to human diversity. This is much more than just a style, fashion, beauty or aesthetic appearance of objects. This is an intervention into environments, products, and services which aims to ensure that anyone, regardless of their capacities, needs, culture, age or gender can fully participate in various social activities. Although related to the idea of universal design, this idea is not exclusively aimed at the problems of socially vulnerable groups (such as seniors, people with disabilities or special needs).
In certain situations, all of us may feel disabled. For example, when we arrive at a new city and cannot orient ourselves in the new space, if the space, or more precisely, the design elements of a city, such as links, information signs, visual means of communication or urban spatial structure do not help us to understand and comprehend it easily.
Or, being left-handed, you may encounter some difficulties when using improperly designed scissors, saws, or similar objects. There is a reason why today developers of smartphones, tablets or operating environments are competing with each other for a higher degree of intuitive mediums which would cross the boundaries of age, education, browsing habits, knowledge, or culture. That’s where a certain need of universal environment, objects, and services rises, with the focus on the consumer/user: he is always diverse and different, but as always right and has the need and the right of being independent and to choosing the own way of life. That’s where the most important goal of “Design for All” comes from – the design/creation of an environment without physical or social barriers. For all.
Organizations like the European Association of Design for All Europe or Design for All Foundation that advocate, disseminate, and promote this idea in Europe have listed the most important criteria of this design concept. It is respect for user diversity, safety, not constituting a health risk, and promotion of healthy environment and space use, functionality, comprehensibility, sustainability, accessibility, and appeal.
As for the idea of design universality, how does it relate to Kaunas or to Kaunas as a UNESCO City of Design?
In a very direct way. To justify the name of the UNESCO City of Design we should not only enjoy, preserve and employ the resources of existing architectural and design heritage but also foster a comprehensive and relevant design culture. After all, the city is more than buildings and spatial structures, it is, first of all, people. The purpose of design is to assist in building the harmony of the relationship between human and material environment.
So design is two in one: a tool and a way that can help the city become more appealing, perform and function better, more comfortable, accessible, and fun to live. After all, we dismiss the fact that our psychophysical, psychoemotional status, relationships with each other depends on how „light” and friendly is our material environment. The scientists have demonstrated and validated this. That, perhaps, in one way or another we have experienced through the rigors and clumsiness of Soviet environment. Therefore, the question – that is only partially rhetorical – how often a person can smile if he constantly has to kick open a door because otherwise, it wouldn’t open may still be relevant. In the same way, the level of road-rage is proportionate to the number of potholes on the roads.
In this sense, the design as a way of thinking or problem-solving based on design techniques, first of all, in city case, means the assurance and availability of public space design, planning and quality of public services. In Kaunas case, it inevitably would have to become a priority and a long-term strategy for the city. And the program and events of „Kaunas: European Capital of Culture 2022” could give the stimulus for this. Meanwhile, the city of Helsinki in Finland which has become the World Design Capital in 2012 could be a role model of success. It is a city that focused its entire program on design capacity and power as a tool that solves the problems of the public sector – starting with school lunch breaks and finishing with reprogramming/recreating of libraries and public parks to respond to the needs of local communities while working together with them. This, by the way, is another very important side of the idea of design universality, design for all. That’s why it is also called an inclusive design.
Of course, the local, Lithuanian and Kaunas context should be the primary base for the operation. I think it is very important to expand the limits of design concept: design is more than trendy objects, furniture, clothing or interior. It is also important to build bridges between the different fields, activities, and “camps” of design: creators, artists, representatives of business and industry for enhanced understanding and cooperation. We should strive for the city first of all to create rather than to be creative so that we could start to produce and generate tangible results, and get “infected“ with „good design”, and deserve the title of the Design City.
Today, we are more and more exposed to the concept of creative industries. What is the creative worker and why is it important to talk about this?
I have to admit that although we hear this term more and more, but the concept of creative industries is still very „fresh” in Lithuania. To speak about it and reflect on it, we have started only around 2003. Of course, this doesn’t mean that creative industries didn’t exist in Lithuania before that. The concept is very broad and capacious, and refers to the fields of creation, culture as well as business and industry, end new technologies that modify our habits of creation, production, distribution, and consumption. A „creative” or „cultural worker” is a conditional name for those who operate in the field that often connects the opposites,different activities, and disciplines. This is not a profession or organization, or any other formal unit. It is rather an attempt to unite somehow those who operate in the segment of the cultural and creative industry which includes a wide range of activities, starting with design, architecture, advertising, fashion, and ending with IT industry. It is obvious that today in addition to the classical industry, non-standard industry, non-traditional businesses, new cultural and business models play an increasing role. Therefore, it is highly important to recognize them, understand how they differ from traditional industries, and activities, and what unites them. It is very important to use the concepts of creative industries, cultural and creative sector, and employ them in our life and urban strategies, so we could speak with entire Europe in the same language at the very least.
What do we need for young Kaunas people to start to develop creative hubs, incubators, clusters, and for fashion designers to flourish or stay here?
I would say that the establishing of creative hubs, incubators, or clusters isn’t the ultimate goal. Rather, it is a measure to support and encourage the sector that has specific needs. Practice shows that this sector tends naturally – and this is considered to be its strength and distinct characteristic – to create and organize themselves into certain networks, to network, operate in teams, have project-based work, be clustered. Therefore, infrastructural support (various centers, hubs, incubators, spaces of co-operation and so on) along with the soft support (training, consulting services) and granting certain tax concessions (eg. Preferential rent of study, office, apartment) or finding more accessible financing mechanisms – are excellent and tested measures that can effectively stimulate the development and prosperity of this sector in the city.
How could the program of „Kaunas: European Capital of Culture 2022” contribute to starting the process?
The idea of Kaunas becoming the European Capital of Culture in its very essence is a really important statement that culture is a significant capital in symbolic and practical sense of the word. It is valuable, meaningful and useful. What’s more, the culture pays off. We see the program “Kaunas: the European Capital of Culture” as an open platform for the creative and cultural potential of the city to unfold, appear and demonstrate, connect and integrate, remember, discover, and create ourselves anew. At the same time, we seek to align the program with the strategic city goals, objectives, and urban development – so as to ensure the continuity of the program in the long run. As, for example, we could expect to happen after implementing the projects like establishment of a new contemporary art center in Kaunas.
You have mentioned earlier that culture cannot be measured only in quantitative terms (for example, by the number of exhibition visitors). How can we measure culture then?
Yes, in fact, a measurement of cultural value or return of investment in culture is a very complex and sensitive issue. Recently, I had a chance to participate in the discussion held by the European Commission with the representatives of the cultural and creative sector. To my huge surprise, 34 representatives from different countries and a wide range of fields, unanimously reached an opinion, and formulated a statement before the European Commission, that it is necessary to reassess the mechanics of creative and cultural sector evaluation that is based on econometric and statistic data. The dominant line of economic return and so-called sector growth is not capable reflecting the overall value that the sector generates in society and the public. In addition to numbers, qualitative indicators that demonstrate the improvement in the quality of life through the stronger communal relations, growing sense of belonging to the place and the community, satisfaction with life, possibility of a harmonious balance between work and private life, and so on, become very important. By the way, this was evidenced by recent studies that seek to measure the impact of artistic, cultural and creative industries.
The issue is particularly relevant to the program of “Kaunas: the European Capital of Culture”. Inevitably, we face the question of how to measure the benefits and value of a cultural event of this kind? I can only say that the program will employ more than integrated scientific tools: we see the problem as a creative challenge. Since Kaunas seeks to become a happy city and has incorporated this objective in city’s strategic development program, we are considering very seriously that we should measure the happiness. We intend to create an innovative design object – the meter of happiness and emotions.

Video: Marius Paplauskas