IED Network

October 23, 2019

How Black is Black Friday? Looking at a cultural phenomenon through the lens of sustainable development.

António Guterres, United Nations Secretary-General stated that “the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals are our collective response to building a fair globalization”. Whereby collective stands for by all people. It is important not to underestimate the power of individual action and the role that each and every-one of us has in supporting positive change. At the same time, it is important not to forget that we, as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), are all interlinked and every small action that we make affects the broader context and the life of others as well as that of the environment.

It isn’t surprising therefore that a few days before Heads of State and Government gathered at the United Nations Headquarters in New York on September 24 and 25, 2019, to comprehensively review the progress that has been made towards the achievement of the 17 SDGs; at the turn of the massive and coordinated Global Climate Strike led by young people in over 150 countries in view of the UN Climate Summit, people from all walks of life in over 85 cities around the world joined the #Global Goals Jam to respond to the ever-pressing needs for a better future for all.

In Italy, young creatives from Milan and Rome, with different academic, professional and personal backgrounds, joined the 2019 Milan Global Goals Jam (MGGJ), organized by IED, to ground SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation and SDG 13: Climate Action by debating and questioning the meaning and processes triggered by the Black Friday phenomenon – event that has become international and multi-seasonal, stretching the boundaries of time to become an almost continuous event.

At the shout of “how black is black Friday?”, question put forward by students from the IED international network as part of “100 under-pressure questions for a better tomorrow” in view of the 2019 Milan Design Week, MGGJ jammers explored the deep historical, social, economic and environmental issues that lay within and around the Black Friday experience.

Embracing it, jammers tackled Black Friday from a sustainable development standpoint as directly linked to SDG 6 and SDG 13 but also, in the true spirit of the framework of the 2030 Agenda, as interlinked with all the Global Goals. By addressing the different sectors involved in Black Fridays and people’s behaviors, the MGGJ created short to medium term innovative solutions that could generate long term value for local communities and subsequently for global networks.

From a perspective of change, in point of fact, undertaking phenomena like Black Friday inevitably requires a systemic and holistic approach on a global, national and local scale, in order to address the unique conditions of each specific country and region worldwide, adopted in regional innovation ecosystems and innovation clusters. These multi-layered structures of innovative ecosystems and innovation clusters can strengthen or weaken each other’s building capacity and potential in mainstreaming significant transformation at global level.

In addition, we must acknowledge the role that creatives and designers have within these systems and the responsibility they hold, as professionals and individuals, in promoting and creating sustainable behaviors both within the relevant industries and in connection to the general public.

We must also recognize that perhaps the better outcomes harnessed by designers come when they work with problems close to home, where they can talk to the people involved, where they can see with their own eyes and touch with their own hands the technology, materials, places and situations and where they have the cultural knowledge to imagine the reaction to their designs. Even if environmental, social and economic awareness in people is high right now the biggest problem still seems to be how to change behavior. This is what designers and each one of us need to work on nowadays and in the near future, to help transform sustainable development from a catch phrase on everyone’s lips to a consolidated and universal system where trends represent small variable frames.

While it is not possible to become 100% sustainable nor to change one’s identity or goals overnight, it is of the upmost urgency to go beyond symbolic gestures to become an active part of the change and to communicate collective values of sustainability rather than personalized, and sometimes biased, individual values. Design and design education, within this context, can play a significant role not only by training creative professionals, but by engaging their communities through “learning by doing”, in turn making everyone aware of the urgent challenges facing contemporary society and empower people to take a position and role in sustainable development.

The 19MGGJ community of jammers and professionals discussed and reflected on exactly this. Breaking down the multiple layers of an event that has become an ordinary part of our everyday lives to understand the immediate and long term ripple effects – both positive and negative – it has in relation to the SDGs. Exploring and designing a collective response to a fair globalization.




Simona Maccagnani conversing with Marika Aakesson, Giovanni Ottonello and Gabriel Weirich.

Simona is Head of the Research Center at IED Istituto Europeo di Design | Design Across Cultures Ambassador | Coach #Global Goals Jam 2018 & 2019 Milan

This article is part of a series of perspectives on design and sustainable development connected to the Global Goals Jam 2019 (September 19-22) – an international event where change-makers create innovative solutions to achieve the Global Goals. Creative professionals Marika Aakesson, Simona Maccagnani, Giovanni Ottonello and Gabriel Weirich share viewpoints to debate with, provoke and inspire new generations of learners.
If you want to join us for the 2020 Global Goals Jam in Italy next September, drop us a line: