“Ugly aeroplanes don’t fly,” the famed Soviet aircraft designer Andrei Tupolev is often quoted as saying.

This is the unofficial motto of the upcoming Days of Industrial Design festival at the Skolkovo innovation city, according to its curator, Elena Panteleeva.

“That’s absolutely fair: form is irrevocably intertwined with content. We are showing that form also helps in the promotion of a product and business strategy,” says Panteleeva of the three-day event, which runs from June 26-28 at the Skolkovo Technopark, ahead of World Industrial Design Day on June 29.

Designers from The New Raw initiative in the Netherlands, one of whose projects turned plastic rubbish into eco-friendly city furniture (above), will take part in the event's plenary session on June 28. Photo: Print Your City.

As in previous years, the event includes both a hackathon, in which teams of young designers will try to solve real tasks faced by Skolkovo resident tech startups, and two days of conference sessions devoted to the role of design in areas ranging from space and robotics to transport and agriculture.

The event, now in its third year, “brings together science, technology and a creative approach,” says Elena Zelentsova, vice president for city development of the Skolkovo Foundation.

“Designers and entrepreneurs will gather at the Skolkovo Technopark to discuss new ideas and develop practical solutions in a design hackathon. In the three years this project has been underway, it has shown that the role of industrial design has transformed from a service function into a key business strategy,” said Zelentsova.

Elena Zelentsova, Skolkovo's vice president for city development. Photo: Sk.ru.

The most international day of the festival is its third day, which will feature the event’s main plenary session, talks by leading international designers, and the final of the design hackathon and awards for the best solutions.

Taking part in the plenary session, titled “Skolkovo: A Design Territory,” are two designers from The New Raw initiative in the Netherlands, which explores the convergence of digital fabrication and material resourcing. One of The New Raw’s projects, “Print Your City!” turned plastic rubbish collected on the streets of Amsterdam into ecologically friendly and inexpensive city furniture. (Later in the day, The New Raw founders, Foteini Setaki and Panos Sakkas, will deliver a lecture titled “New Materials: From Rubbish to a 3D Printer.”)

The plenary also features Ashley Hall, a professor of design innovation and deputy head of the Innovation Design Engineering programme at Britain’s Royal College of Art, and Umberto Giraudo, a designer and teacher at the British Higher School of Art and Design in Moscow.

First-hand experience

The second day of the event – June 27 – features several speakers representing Skolkovo startups, as well as leading industrial designers, including Timur Burbaev, art director and industrial designer at Moscow’s prominent Art Lebedev Studio, who will together explore the process of bringing a creative idea to production.

“This year, we decided to focus on our shared resource centres,” said Panteleeva, referring to the Technopark’s numerous facilities designed to help tech startups in their work.

“Startups don’t always know who to turn to with such tasks, while the shared resource centres themselves say that not everyone knows about the services they offer – even that there is such a service as industrial design, and that Skolkovo startups can even apply for a minigrant to cover its costs.”

The shared resource centres taking part including Karfidov Lab industrial design studio.

The panel sessions on that same day include “In Zero Gravity,” devoted to the design of spaceships. The discussion, which will feature cosmonauts Valeri Tokarev and Mark Serov, the latter of whom now works as an engineer at Energia Rocket and Space Corporation, follows on from last year’s highly entertaining talk by Galina Balashova, who designed the interiors of entire generations of Soviet aircraft. Other discussions that day include “Attack of the Drones,” about designing unmanned aerial systems, and “Design as Pain Relief,” devoted to medical design. That session will be moderated by Sergei Smirnov, head of SmirnovDesign, and will feature Ekaterina Bereziy, co-founder of Skolkovo resident medical exoskeleton maker ExoAtlet, Ivan Krechetov, CEO of Kleiber Bionics, another Skolkovo startup that makes bionic prostheses, and others.

Spaceship interior designer Galina Balashova enthralled the audience at last year's event. This year, cosmonauts Valeri Tokarev and Mark Serov will take part in a session on spaceship design. Photo: Sk.ru.

Real-life challenges

The hackathon dominates the first day of the festival. With the overall goal of developing connections between designers and engineers to improve domestic innovative products, the hackathon will see teams of designers present their solutions for challenges presented to them by Skolkovo startups.

The teams of one to five designers will be made up of students and graduates from the industrial design faculties of leading Moscow universities and design schools, including the Polytechnic University, Bauman Moscow State Technical University, and Moscow’s British Higher School of Art and Design. They will be presented with design specifications by Skolkovo startups based on real challenges the companies are facing, and will have three days to devise an original solution, with help from mentors. For the young designers, the hackathon is a chance to gain valuable work experience and build up their contacts in the industry, while the startups have the chance to get fresh ideas on how to improve the design of their products.

“There are precedents as a result of joint work when designers have become members of our startups’ teams,” says Panteleeva, who is head of culture and science within the Skolkovo Foundation.

More than 20 teams of designers have registered to take part in the hackathon, along with seven Skolkovo startups. The tasks this year’s participants will take on include designing a “graffiti drone for the masses” for Tsuru Robotics, a space system for providing satellite internet at a medium orbit for D.C. Orbital, a driverless tractor for Avrora Robotics and an educational constructor for satellite-maker Sputnix, among other tasks.

Elena Panteleeva, curator of Days of Industrial Design. Photo: Sk.ru.

Joining forces

The Sberbank Robotics Laboratory is also taking part in the hackathon, having set participants the task of designing a robot-barista. Albert Yefimov, head of the Sberbank Robotics Laboratory and previously head of robotics at the Skolkovo Foundation, was instrumental in the founding of the Days of Industrial Design festival: it was at his instigation in 2015 that a design hackathon was first held at Skolkovo as part of an event devoted to robotics, recalled Panteleeva. The industrial design festival grew out of that hackathon and is now attended by leading figures in both Russian and foreign industrial design, she said.

On the final day of the event, the Sberbank Robotics Laboratory will sign an agreement with SmirnovDesign, which recently set up a shared resource centre at the Skolkovo Technopark. The two teams will pledge to work together in the research and development of collaborative robot manipulators (collaborative robots are designed to interact with humans in the workspace rather than perform tasks autonomously), logistical robotics, industrial exoskeletons and driverless transport.

About 2,000 people are expected to attend the Days of Industrial Design at Skolkovo, compared to 1,100 last year and about 700 the year before, said Panteleeva, while noting that visitor numbers were not the event’s main focus. Instead, the event aims to enhance connections between designers and tech entrepreneurs, and change perceptions about the role played by design in an innovative product.

“We’re destroying stereotypes connected with the word ‘design:’ it’s not just an attractive outer shell; it’s also the materials used and how ergonomic an item is,” she said.

The Days of Industrial Design festival takes place at the Skolkovo Technopark on June 26-28. A full programme is available here. Advance registration is recommended but not obligatory. Simultaneous interpretation in English and Russian of all sessions will be available on the international day of the festival, June 28.