The background text is generated from the 45957 words, 2380 sentences found at Design Fest Gent

Wait, what are we talking about?

The quantitative reading of Design Fest Gent

Invited by Z33 and Designregio Kortrijk

Every design festival consumes countless sheets of paper and an enormous amount of electricity to propagate a surge of information. Like anyone else, my cognitive capacity is too limited to digest all of that, so I had to imagine a machine that could help me understand what we were talking about.

The exhibition description

On the 23rd of April, 2022, the second day of the first edition of Design Fest Gent, I went to every venue that was open and photographed every written description that I could find. Using the OCR function of an iPhone, I could transcribe those images into an extensive amount of text data consisting of 45957 words, 2380 sentences. Then I programmed a simple algorithm that analyzes how different concepts are associated with each other by counting how many times they were written in the same sentences. This tool provided some meaningful hints for the questions that I had about the way that we perceive, comprehend and communicate about design particularly in the context of Design Fest Gent.

What is design?

Since design is established as a discipline, there have been numerous definitions of design. Now the notion of design is plural, and that of mine probably won’t be identical to that of yours. The statistical tool demonstrated what the average perception of the word ‘design’ was during Design Fest Gent.

Words associated with the word ‘design’
gent, 25 times
we, 25 times
fest, 22 times
museum, 18 times
project, 17 times
new, 13 times
materials, 12 times
research, 12 times
designers, 12 times
material, 11 times
architecture, 10 times
digital, 10 times
product, 10 times
shops, 10 times
circular, 9 times
you, 9 times
approach, 9 times
development, 9 times
projects, 8 times
making, 8 times
use, 8 times
city, 8 times
based, 8 times
more, 8 times
studio, 8 times
students, 7 times
made, 7 times
developed, 7 times
unfold, 7 times
part, 7 times
objects, 7 times

From the list of the words, it appeared that design is about ‘objects’ ‘made’ of ‘materials’ into commodified forms that we call ‘products’ that are sold at ‘shops’. At the same time, the practices of design also consist of ‘projects’ driven by ‘studios’ or ‘students’ incorporating ‘research’ and ‘development’ in search of ‘new’ or ‘more’ ‘circular’ ‘approaches’. And a ‘museum’ is where ‘you’ learn about what ‘we’ did as ‘designers’. Above all these, what was emphasized the most about design was its situatedness at ‘Design Fest Gent’.

How gendered is design?

Design has never been gender-neutral starting from the example of Bauhaus where female students were strongly encouraged to choose ‘softer’ and ‘more domestic’ mediums such as textile. And in the fields that are considered ‘more concrete’ such as product design and architecture, the most represented designers in higher positions are predominantly male. I used the algorithmic tool to find out which concepts are frequently associated with the gendered pronouns ‘he’ and ‘she’.

Words associated with the word ‘he’
research, 4 times
land, 4 times
started, 3 times
work, 3 times
natural, 3 times
life, 2 times
objects, 2 times
architecture, 2 times
pieces, 2 times
carries, 2 times
out, 2 times
extensive, 2 times
materials, 2 times
chooses, 2 times
investigating, 2 times
cultural, 2 times

Words associated with the word ‘she’
uses, 5 times
other, 5 times
looks, 5 times
possible, 4 times
colour, 4 times
materials, 4 times
process, 4 times
made, 4 times
wool, 4 times
every, 4 times
new, 4 times
shapes, 4 times
choices, 3 times
seaweed, 3 times
material, 3 times

Compared to the example of Bauhaus, the gender-based differentiation at Design Fest Gent appears more nuanced yet still prevalent. The projects of male designers reported themselves as ‘extensive’ ‘works’ about the ‘land’, ‘architecture’ and ‘objects’ that ‘research’ and ‘investigate’ the ‘natural’ and ‘cultural’ ‘materials’. Meanwhile, the works of female designers ‘looked’ for the ‘other’ ‘possible’ ‘processes’ by ‘using’ ‘materials’ such as ‘wool’ and ‘seaweed’ for ‘new’ ‘shapes’ and ‘colors’. These results allude to an urgency for Design Fest Gent to give more exposure to female designers in the fields where male designers are more typically represented, and vice versa to male designers.

What is also important to note is that gender is not a binary concept, and there is a considerable number of people including myself who don’t neatly fit into the category of ‘he’ or ‘she’. This matters in the local context of the festival because Ghent is one of the most LGBT-friendly cities in Flanders with a dynamic queer community. Gender-non-conformity can be represented in language by the use of gender-neutral pronouns, singular ‘they’ in the case of English. The technical challenge that I had while applying the algorithm to the singular ‘they’ pronoun was to distinguish it from the plural ‘they’ pronoun. This job would require a much more complicated algorithm that can read the nuance of sentences, because the singular and plural ‘they’ pronouns are used in almost the same grammatical way. However, it was not necessary at all in this case because I could not find any use of a singular they pronoun in the 45957 words that I collected. This means a severe lack of queer representation at the whole Design Fest Gent, and it is not a coincidence that there were only two gender-neutral bathrooms in eleven venues that I visited.

What do we mean by better?

What was notable in the festival was the fact that the question “How does it contribute to a better world?” appeared repeatedly in almost every project description. It was interesting to observe the varying notions of the word ‘better’ interpreted by different designers. I used the same algorithmic tool to find out the average idea of ‘better’ used at Design Fest Gent.

Words associated with the word ‘better’
world, 10 times
my, 7 times
healthcare, 5 times
contributes, 4 times
project, 4 times
times, 4 times
together, 3 times
more, 3 times
understand, 3 times
we, 3 times
waste, 3 times
material, 3 times
materials, 3 times
than, 3 times
i, 3 times
if, 2 times
economy, 2 times

What I could instantly notice was more frequent use of first person pronouns such as ‘I’ and ‘my’, which relates to the fact that ‘better’ is the most subjective concept that I can think of. Starting from those personal motivations, the focus of the designers extended toward the ‘world’, ‘we’, ‘together’. I would like to conclude this observation with an optimistic remark that the way designers ‘contribute’ to the world is indeed through this process of creative translation from ‘I’ to ‘we’ like what this result reveals. It is crucial to keep widening the notion of ‘we’ to have more diverse bodies involved in the practice of design.


I acknowledge this research methodology has its constraints. The OCR tool that I used can only recognize latin alphabets, which excludes non-Latin script languages including my mother tongue. I only included English descriptions that I could collect from the venues that were open on the 23rd of April. Data is the new currency in the time of surveillance capitalism, thus the limitations of the data collection originate from the lack of resources.

When the same algorithm is used to predict the most probable phrase that will come after a specific phrase, it turns into a text generator that creates an endless stream of text by referencing the input. You can find this in the background of this page.

The trial issue of Ponton magazine in which this review is featured can be found at Design Museum Gent.

Appendix: The Algorithmic Glossary of Design Fest Gent 2022

Words associated with the word ‘we’
materials, 26 times
design, 25 times
what, 24 times
world, 23 times
project, 23 times
new, 22 times
way, 22 times
material, 21 times
want, 20 times
different, 18 times
used, 18 times
use, 18 times
all, 18 times
do, 17 times
waste, 17 times
create, 16 times
more, 15 times
together, 15 times
sustainable, 15 times

Words associated with the word ‘I’
could, 11 times
create, 10 times
when, 10 times
we, 9 times
materials, 9 times
material, 9 times
think, 9 times
nature, 8 times
objects, 8 times
make, 8 times
like, 7 times
idea, 6 times
use, 6 times
see, 6 times
more, 6 times

Words associated with the word ‘nature’
i, 8 times
materials, 6 times
we, 5 times
material, 4 times
industry, 4 times
you, 4 times
shapes, 4 times
design, 4 times
experience, 4 times
work, 4 times
colours, 4 times
one, 4 times
objects, 4 times
natural, 4 times
more, 3 times
explore, 3 times
admiration, 3 times
hand, 3 times

Words associated with the word ‘economy’
circular, 11 times
we, 10 times
raw, 6 times
waste, 6 times
local, 5 times
plastics, 4 times
students, 4 times
products, 4 times
production, 3 times
materials, 3 times
support, 3 times
linear, 3 times
material, 3 times
within, 3 times
change, 3 times
industry, 3 times
petrolbased, 2 times

Words associated with the word ‘identity’
belgian, 3 times
new, 2 times
typo, 2 times
visual, 2 times
design, 2 times
belgium, 2 times
type, 2 times
material, 2 times
along, 2 times
digital, 2 times
behind, 1 times
large, 1 times
amount, 1 times
unwanted, 1 times
necessary, 1 times
comes, 1 times
belgique, 1 times
aims, 1 times
outline, 1 times

Words associated with the word ‘belgium’
type, 4 times
project, 3 times
all, 3 times
material, 3 times
necessary, 3 times
local, 3 times
behind, 2 times
importing, 2 times
wool, 2 times
profitable, 2 times
over, 2 times
world, 2 times
whilst, 2 times
has, 2 times
enormous, 2 times
quantities, 2 times
research, 2 times
made, 2 times
investigates, 2 times

Words associated with the word ‘future’
new, 12 times
living, 7 times
production, 7 times
use, 6 times
research, 6 times
more, 6 times
all, 6 times
resources, 6 times
materials, 6 times
between, 6 times
we, 6 times
landscape, 6 times
project, 6 times
design, 5 times
five, 5 times
what, 5 times
us, 5 times
one, 5 times
approach, 4 times
learning, 4 times
alternative, 4 times
people, 4 times
water, 4 times
building, 4 times
working, 4 times