Swiss Grand Award for Design 2021 – Sarah Owens

As a part of the Federal Design Commission, it was a pleasure to have an extended conversation about her life and work in the context of her distinction with the Swiss Grand Award for Design 2021. As author Jonas Berthod remarked for the occasion,

Her consideration for the full spectrum of knowledge reflects her desire to share and connect with the wider community, addressing issues of representation and visibility outside the university. These activities perhaps define the core of Sarah Owens’s biography: a passion for knowledge that is anti-hierarchical, celebrates plurality and focuses on inclusion, but also a career-long engagement to sharing and collectively building that knowledge.

During the prize ceremony of the Swiss Grand Award for Design 2021, I was honored to give Sarah’s laudatio and present the award.

Reading the laudatio for Sarah Owens. Photo by Diana Pfammatter.

Failure is not an option?

The digital programming around the 2020 edition of the Swiss Design Awards was structured around the question: “Failure is Not an Option?”. The program aims to question the idea of failure as a malfunction, embraces the reassessment that the absence of normality permits, and entertains the idea that failure might be a better option. In this context, I was happy to moderate three conversations with design luminaries Aric Chen, Catherine Ince, and Matylda Krzykowski, where we sought to frame the present moment and its challenges.

The first conversation, with Aric Chen, curatorial director of Design Miami, reflected on the digital turn, the progressive focus on local and regional realities, and a plural, decentered future for the design discipline. With Catherine Ince, chief curator of the V&A East in London, we talked about the role of museums after the pandemic, the importance of creating conversations, and how institutions can become revolutionary spaces of care. And with Matylda Krzykowski, curator and designer, we discussed different forms of isolation from the desert to the city, the need to embrace new categories for design and its practitioners, and how young designers can claim their space. Thank you to the Federal Office of Culture and the team lead by Anna Niederhäuser for the invitation!

Joining the Federal Design Commission

The Federal Design Commission. Photo Ruth Erdt / BAK

Since January I am one of the new members of the Federal Design Commission of the Swiss Confederation, a non-governmental advisory body that, among other things, forms the jury of the yearly Swiss Design Awards competition and grants a yearly career prize to designers in Switzerland. It is a great honor to join this incredible group of people and I look forward to my time serving as a member!