“Without design, there is no possible social change. It is the most sensitive tool at our disposal and in absolutely everything that surrounds us. We need design to interact with and improve our environments and our communities.”
Travel to Valencia (Spain), and you might be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t know the name Xavi Calvo. As one of the key minds behind Valencia’s World Design Capital 2022 bid, Calvo has led the city through all stages of its WDC designation as the programme’s CEO, overseeing a year-long calendar of design-led events, festivals, conferences and activities that have not only left an indelible mark on the region’s design community, but also cemented Valencia’s place on the world stage. “Without a doubt, the journey itself has been the best reward. I guess it’s all about learning, and one of the most exciting things has been to be able to encourage an outstanding participation of Valencian society, from the professional sector to industry and citizens.”
As a designer himself, and a firm believer in Valencia’s “proactive and positive vision of the future”, Calvo understood the importance of building a community-first WDC programme, one that not only explored the collective experiences of the designers, creatives, artists and activists that call Valencia home, but also showcased the city in a new light to international audiences.
With a slogan that was focused squarely on ‘design for change’, Calvo and many others saw the WDC designation as an opportunity to socially transform the territory through good design. “What we were looking for was to generate initiatives that would project design beyond 2022, generating a legacy capable of transcending and establishing itself as a key value of the local, national and international social and industrial fabric.”
Indeed, one of the most rewarding parts of his role as CEO has been crafting this didactic, to ensure that the WDC projects he and his team were building could explain design from the perspective of Valencia in a way that would resonate and live on within the community. And it would seem that they succeeded, delivering a diverse and innovative programme that included 6 WDC Signature Events, hundreds of local activations and the establishment of the Àgora València, the city’s first design pavilion. And while it may be difficult for Calvo to pick a favourite, he notes that the “less predictable” exhibitions, such as Why Am I Like This, Design+Health, Design the Air or the “more social projects that directly affect inclusion or gender perspective” deserve important mention.
The diversity of WDC Valencia’s programme was a key factor in ensuring that it reached and impacted all sectors, including those that are perhaps traditionally more alien to design. “Our objective was to impact the professional sector, industry and public administration, but also in general, citizenship. For professional sectors, we carried out projects that gave them value from design, through case studies and the promotion of design. We also allied ourselves with the cultural sector, collaborating to open design centres and museum exhibitions for all audiences.” More details surrounding the impact of the WDC Valencia programme will be released in early 2023 as part of the city’s forthcoming impact study.
As 2022 draws to a close and Valencia’s WDC programme winds down, Calvo has no plans to fade into the shadows. He intends to continue to build upon this unique trajectory, stating that it all comes back to this idea of transcension. “This World Design Capital needed to transcend, to go beyond 2022, and to ensure this transition we created a Design Foundation (Fundació del Disseny de la Comunitat Valenciana) that collects, channels and promotes the legacy of World Design Capital Valencia 2022.”
Still in development, Valencia’s Design Foundation will aim to unify the region’s design ecosystem by supporting the culture of knowledge in the creative, economic and social fields of design. “It would have been absurd to let everything fade away. It must be emphasized that the World Design Capital candidacy itself was a great exercise for Valencian society that generated much enthusiasm, and these last four years have produced such high complicity with companies, organizations, governments and the design community that we have to keep working on this as a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
Quick Fire Questionnaire
Describe yourself in 3 words.
Patient. Cheerful. Designer.
What are you currently reading?
Do Design: Why Beauty Is Key to Everything by Alan Moore
What is your motto?
Everything is going to be okay in the end.
Favourite spot in Valencia?
Our World Design Capital Valencia 2022 headquarters are located in La Marina de València. Our waterfront, the old harbour, was converted into a huge public and strategic space open to innovation and other activities like leisure, sports and gastronomy.
Design for the present or design for the future?
Future. It is no coincidence that we have developed so many activities about the future, research, prospecting, books and exhibitions imagining what the future will be like from a real point of view based on design.