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The Lab for Network Communities is an experimental program developed and curated by The Global School at the School of Art & Design – BIFT (Beijing Institute for Fashion Technology) during the 2018/2019 academic year.

The lab is a piloting effort for the establishment of a long-term research entity and frameworks of cooperation based on interdisciplinary, practice-lead forms of learning that interact with the existing system of departmental knowledge present at BIFT. The lab aims to encourage the edification of new knowledge-making mechanisms and knowledge-sharing dynamics engaging students, faculty and professionals from a variety of fields ranging from independent design circles to the academic arena and innovation outlets found in private and public sectors.

For this first year the lab operates under an explorative environment that informs the 2019 graduate show under the theme Significant Others, Incomplete by Design.

Between October 2018 and June 2019 an integrated program of focused workshops, in-studio lectures and a series of public events are developed to both accompany students’ research agendas as well as expand the conversation with practitioners from relevant areas of study that both challenge and reroute critical discourse in and out the specificity of given goals.

The program includes a bilingual online platform intended as a tool for research and dialogue with relevance to the yearly theme, and curatorial/editorial/design planning for the final graduation show and catalogue.


This project tests new methodologies across the innovation-education interface that sit on the fringe of both systems as connective procedures rather than objectifiable models. In so doing it behaves in a shape-shifting fashion as a form of bottom-up, tentacular agency that productively intrudes the disciplinary hierarchies customarily imposed by traditional educational institutions, so to unearth and explore new creative alliances that can constantly reconfigure around ecologies of empathy and proximity in thought and practice.



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About the lab


From the educational field to corporate ranks of operation, notions of ‘design thinking’, ‘user-centred design’, ‘social design’ are used to tackle the urgency and need for creative thinking to build responsive, user-specific tooling with the capacity to preserve balance amidst the increasingly fragmented and uneven forces that inhabit everyday life – design is ever more asked to perform as a connective agent among different forms of knowledge, demographic groups, physical and digital realms of experience.

Connectivity nowadays is no longer the single purview of high-tech companies eager to capitalize on the social desire to ‘be there, be present’, but a condition of existence – connectedness is predicated on the imperative of the network - ‘be linked, or never be whole’.

The implications of this condition are complex and multifarious – to be sure they are so in relation to whom and how detains control over the very means and outcomes of its social production. While networked technologies have produced uplifting impacts over the course of the past 20 years and the coming of age of the ‘sharing economy’, they also present urgent challenges for our subjective understanding and articulation of what it means to ‘belong’ to this new and future ‘whole’ beyond partaking to communities of interest, nuclear preservation and ‘self’-centred economies of consumption.


Can we alter, redirect or redraw systemic dependences of social, economic and cultural nature into new configurations that can truly restore a sense of ‘reciprocity’ and ‘mutuality’ into the contemporary condition of ‘’connectedness’’? That is to empower or re-enable the making of communities around empathetic networks of value, proximity and care?

For designers this means to think through and ‘build’ actionable blueprints of change across both real and speculative scenarios: mediating between the fast-paced simulations of technological augmentation and the real-world resilience of human predicaments, that is the habitudinal systems of co-dependence and trust that historically have sustained offline social networks. 

This research environment aims at exploring the contemporary condition of NETWORK COMMUNITIES by devising practical and speculative scenarios implicating ACCESSIBILITY, IMPACT and COLLABORATION in a radically interdisciplinary context spanning the social sciences, technological research, spatial, visual and material studies, entrepreneurship and economics.

The program aims at building long-term perspectives for the establishment of a permanent research entity within The School of Arts & Design at BIFT dedicated to design research and development concerned with the positive edification of systems of extreme proximities among today’s network communities.


如今,连接性已不再是高科技公司渴望利用“be there, be present”的社会愿望的单一权限,而是一种存在条件——连接性基于网络——“被连接,或永远不连接”。


我们是否能够改变、重定向或重塑社会、经济和文化的系统依赖性,使之成为新的形态,从而真正将 reciprocity and mutuality的感觉恢复到“联系”的状态?




2019 theme


The theme for the 2019 Graduation Show poses a quest to students to explore their life environment, their personal, familial and social contexts with the aim to find an inspirational cause to explore and empower.

Significant Others is a project challenge that unknowledges the shapeshifting nature of design both as process and product, and the productive vulnerability that is inscribed in the intrinsically plural and thus dispositional character of the creative enterprise, crafted at the intersection of multiple needs, interests and desires. Incompleteness is therefore intended as a formula of open-endedness, where the positive, active contribution of others is necessary for the project to complete its function, to make it ‘whole’.

Students are prompted to delve into their own reality, the city, the universe that surrounds them and devise a project that brings positive impact to a community of their choice by suppling a function, service, activity of any nature be it based on an economic transaction, a volunteering job, an educational/commercial/academic/cultural offering provided it clearly targets an unattended common need, whose extent can vary from a small group of people to a neighbourhood or an entire city district. With a targeted ‘user’ in mind the project must reflect on this hypothetical perpetrator as a social partner, a significant other complement.  

The goal of the project is that of re-establishing a meaningful connection among people and groups, a simple premise that wishes to probe extant connections and systemic dependencies and reconfigure them into new value creation.

2019 Public Program


The program includes a series of workshops, in-studio lectures and an ongoing series of public talks open to the entire school. Such program is organized in IRREGULAR LECTURES and a SALON series, articulated around 6 key thematic strands that refer to contradictory stances embedded in the practice of design - unexpected encounters, conceptual dissonances and productive challenges that come involved in the process of developing one’s critical standpoint and approach to it. They are:



on mishaps, mistakes, leftovers and failed experiments and how they can become productive conditions of creation



on the empathetic dimension of design and how both positive and negative emotions play a part in the design work



on adaptability and fluidity, how unexpected factors and misunderstanding influence and eventually change our relation to objects, spaces and situations



idealism and design, in theory and practice



around place-making and community building – the joy and discontents of participatory and relational design



the shape-shifting role of the designer, between facts and fiction


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