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Q&A with Winner of Original Concept and Design Award 2020: Mitja Behnke for InEurope

Q&A with Winner of Original Concept and Design Award 2020: Mitja Behnke for InEurope

WantedDesign’s Original Concept and Design Award for 2020 went to Mitja Behnke of Strate School of Design (France) for his project InEurope, a reception, support and orientation service for asylum seekers at European borders. We interviewed the winners of the Conscious Design Awards to learn more about their projects, their design interests and why the notion of “conscious design” is important to them.

Mitja Behnke

Mitja, tell us a bit about you, your school, and your area of study.

Graduated in 2019 in Product Design at Strate – School of Design (Paris), I enjoy real world experiences, solving complex problems and focusing on human relationship.

Of German origin, I was born and grew up in Paris. my understanding of both cultures inspires me in my work. Either travelling or working with international teams, I’m curious about discovering other cultures and ways of living. A 5-month research in South America (http://perspectivesolidaire.fr) about social initiatives and design was pivotal for my orientation. I truly believe in the role of designers in social change. Consequently, social consciousness has become an integral part of the work I do.

Tell us about the project you presented at WantedDesign Brooklyn.

Following my study trip in Argentina, Uruguay and Chile in 2017, I decided to write my thesis on Solidarity. I particularly looked into the interaction between autonomy and solidarity, at the scale of individuals, communities and states. At the scale of states the border is the expression of the balance between autonomy and solidarity. The more a country seeks autonomy and independence the more its borders are likely to be walls and fences. The increase in new walls around the world made me think that the problem is not the « refugee crisis » but the « crisis of solidarity ».

The increase in migration has resulted in less European cooperation and stronger border control arrangements. As we pursue a security policy, my project, InEurope proposes an alternative border system based on solidarity.

Set up by the European Union, and adapted by national governments, InEurope is a reception, support and orientation service for asylum seekers at European borders. With the overall aim of informing and empowering exiles, InEurope guides them through the social, cultural, and administrative border. Users are taken through a five-part process as they familiarize themselves with the country they are about to enter, learn about the host country’s culture and values, the facilities available to them, their rights and civic duties as an asylum seeker, and the next steps of their integration process.

Deployed at legal entrances to European territory, this site is intended to anticipate successful integration while offering a framework for a better European cooperation.

Why do you think your project specially appealed to the Jury?

I believe my project appealed to the jury because it is raising awareness on a very topical issue: immigration at European borders. The coronavirus crisis has reinforced the need to have conversation about our border and refugee policies as countries across Europe are increasing their hostility towards immigrants. The causes of immigration still persist in a context of global pandemic.

My project proposes a holistic approach on a complex issue involving geopolitics, a topic, in my opinion, (too) rarely explored by designers.

How would you like the project to evolve and potentially be implemented?

The goal is first of all to propose a vision for a European immigration management project. My next step would be exchanging with French and European authorities responsible for immigration. Ideally, a development phase would be necessary to design the project in detail and plan an implementation strategy, before testing it in a pilot location. This is an ambitious project that is still at the manifesto stage and it would require a lot more research and development. At the moment communicating on the project to rise attention is my main goal.

How do you and your project relate to the notion of “conscious and responsible design”?

For me, « conscious design » involves awareness of the long-term impact of a project and is a first step towards creating more sustainable changes. Designing consciously and responsibly is also designing for the real world, understanding and considering the complexity of today’s systems and problems and build solutions that are both considering their long-term impact, evolution and potential consequences. To design more responsible and sustainable solutions we must take into account all parties involved and not only solve for who appears to be the user but for the complex network of people involved. My project proposes a vision and a strategy to fundamentally change our approach to borders and therefore relates to conscious design.

What is next step for you? Do you have any other personal projects in which you are working on?

The next step is to continue working on developing InEurope, preparing communication material and contact relevant authorities to explore any interests and opportunities to develop the project further.

What is your dream project?

My dream project is a project that can make an impact at large scale. I believe in systemic change and complexity to solve societal issues with design. Therefore I believe in a holistic approach that considers all the different elements of a solution and creates a network of solution rather than solving one smaller element of a bigger problem. Mixing disciplines, backgrounds and cultures is to me an absolute necessity when it comes to understanding and solving complex problems.

Mitja Behnke
Strate School of Design – Product Design
Meudon, France
I’m a Product & Service Design student

Read more about all the winners of the WantedDesign Conscious Design Awards 2020.