Common Knowledge – Design in Times of the Information Crisis

BIO26 │ Biennial of Design, Ljubljana, at the Kunstgewerbemuseum

Is COVID-19 fake news and a product of conspiracy? What do we really know? Which sources do we trust? In today’s knowledge society, we have to deal with manipulated news and alternative facts. Citizenship and governance both appear to have been shaken to their very foundations in this post-truth era. Although we have access to more information than any generation before, we are increasingly challenged in our efforts to make well-informed decisions. These factors and others make it difficult for many people in the digital age to create and share the type of “common knowledge” that supports better, more responsive policy.

  • DATES 04/07/2020—01/11/2020

[Translate to English:] text 2

BIO 26 in Ljubljana is Europe's oldest design biennial. Founded in 1963, from November 2019 to February 2020 it was dedicated to the theme of »Common Knowledge« and seeks ideas that show ways out of the current crisis of information. Now she visits the Kunstgewerbemuseum in Pillnitz and presents a cross-section of her main exhibition at the 26th edition of the design festival, focusing primarily on the interrelationships between the multidimensional information crisis and citizenship. She explores the role and potential of contemporary design in shaping knowledge and truth and in recalibrating our infosphere.

© SKD, Foto: Klemens Renner
Ausstellungsansicht "Common Knowledge – Design in Zeiten der Informationskrise" Kunstgewerbemuseum, Wasserpalais, Schloss Pillnitz

[Translate to English:] Die Ausstellung im Wasserpalais

The exhibition in the Wasserpalais in Schloss Pillnitz outlines in five thematic rooms classical and new fields of action in the design and communication of knowledge and spans the arc from artistic data processing to information and media design to investigative and speculative design approaches. Among them are large-format infographics by the French artist duo Bureau d'etudes as well as analog-digital interfaces by the design collective Commonplace Studio.

Exhibition views

[Translate to English:] Bei dem Versuch,

In an attempt to pin down and construct a cohesive, not exhaustive, discussion on the overarching crisis in information, BIO26| Common Knowledge adopted the Data-Information-Knowledge-Wisdom (DIKW) diagram. Originally coined by information and organisational theorist Russell L. Ackoff, the pyramid serves as a base to structure the biennial's central exhibition in four galleries plus one reflecting on the information crisis. Each room presents historic and contemporary works dealing with crucial aspects of the topic side by side.

© Kunstgewerbemuseum, Studio Ljudje
Die DIWW-Pyramide nach Russel L. Ackoff

Information Crisis

Open, accessible information was supposed to help us understand the world better and be smarter when making decisions. In reality, we are lost in a sea of data and information trying to navigate and survive this so-called data smog. Information overload crushes people’s attention spans and clouds their judgment. Despite the fact that there is more information immediately accessible to us now than to any generation before us, we are living in a New Dark Age, argues writer and artist James Bridle, in his book of the same name.

© SKD, Foto: Klemens Renner
Ausstellungsansicht "Common Knowledge – Design in Zeiten der Informationskrise"

[Translate to English:] Informationskrise II

Design can help open people’s eyes and minds. By showing, for example, what life would be like if we were constantly surveilled by drones in a gory near future; by mapping out the power and political structures behind media empires that directly impact public opinion; by making visible the amount of images we consume in a single day or the attempt to navigate the glut in a learning information cloud at the same time. It is not surprising that we constantly feel overwhelmed.


According to Russell L. Ackoff, data are symbols representing the properties of objects, people, and events. Data can be anything from random handwritten notes or artefacts accumulated in storage with no selection or categorization, to codes and binary digits. Processing data converts it into information; the difference is not structural but functional, and thus also corruptible. On the global market, data have become a commodity and a currency at the same time. The concept of Big Data is an intrinsic and iconic resource of our times. Data have become a precious yet pernicious feature in the current era.

[Translate to English:] Daten II

Tangible and non-tangible data form the pool from which creation starts. With digitalisation, data-driven methods of production as well as creative thinking have accelerated. A beauty and a beast at the same time, data are evolving more rapidly than we realize and, as Giorgia Lupi’s Data Humanism Manifesto suggests, our minds and bodies are naturally adapting to this hybrid reality built of both physical and informational structures. A brave new world needs to be designed!

© SKD, Foto: Klemens Renner
Ausstellungsansicht "Common Knowledge - Design in Zeiten der Informationskrise" Kunstgewerbemuseum, Wasserpalais, Schloss Pillnitz


One can view information as filtered data that are contextualised and have meaning attached. The Latin verb informare literally means ‘to give form’ or ‘to form an idea’. In scientific terms, information is an ordered sequence of symbols from an alphabet – a type of pattern. Thus, it can be encoded into various forms for transmission and interpretation, and it can also be encrypted for safe storage and communication. Media theorist Marshall McLuhan coined the phrase The medium is the message, which means that information is always a victim of its transmitter’s bias.

[Translate to English:] Informationen II

In this room, we approach the historic and intrinsic correlations of design and communication as a catalyst of information. The infographic The 8th Sphere by Bureau d’etudes critically renders a world of operating systems and networks, while the use and misuse of radio broadcasts demonstrate the paradigmatic patterns of the Power of information in various regimes. From hieroglyphs to isotypes, and from pictograms to emojis, with the development of the internet the idea of a visual »universal language« went viral. If design has a direct impact on fighting the information crisis, then fighting on the frontline are infographics, UX, UI, and good old editorial design, whose core aims are the organization and Visualisation of Information. The possibilities of fostering new ways for journalism, and perhaps even of restoring media credibility, as offered by the digital era, are discussed in Reporting Redesigned.

© SKD, Foto: Klemens Renner
Ausstellungsansicht "Common Knowledge - Design in Zeiten der Informationskrise" Kunstgewerbemuseum, Wasserpalais, Schloss Pillnitz


In examining the relationship between information and knowledge, it becomes evident that an excess of information does not automatically translate into additional knowledge. What we are witnessing today is a proliferation of digital technology, which has increased the amount of information available and the speed of its transmission beyond all expectations. It is important to remember, though, that while information is a knowledge-generating tool, it is not knowledge itself.

[Translate to English:] Wissen II

With this in mind, a growing number of designers are turning their eyes more and more towards learning and education. Already in the pre-digital era of the 1960s, vanguards experimented with learning and education tools based on neural network-like methods like Ken Issac’s Knowledge Box. Meanwhile, Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Catalogue promised the “access to tools” as open and shared knowledge. Today, patent infringement, non-edited (underground) broadcasts, and speculation about future knowledge are gateways for designers questioning the status quo.

© SKD, Foto: Klemens Renner
Ausstellungsansicht "Common Knowledge – Design in Zeiten der Informationskrise" Kunstgewerbemuseum, Wasserpalais, Schloss Pillnitz


The distinction between data, information, and knowledge up to wisdom is seldom made, which is why Russell L. Ackoff introduced the visual DIKW pyramid as a memory hook. Although wisdom sits on the peak, you need not be an alpinist to reach it. According to Ackoff, wisdom deals with values, not intelligence. It involves the exercise of judgment and the pursuit of ideals — characteristics that differentiate man from machines.

[Translate to English:] Weisheit II

In her seminal 2016 article The Age of Entanglement, Neri Oxman, a designer and professor at MIT Media Lab, analyses how science, design, engineering, and art are intertwined, and how the transfer of knowledge between these disciplines evokes a creative energy. The works on display thrive on this healthy systemic thinking, agency, and communal knowledge for the betterment of the world. Through cross-cultural exchange and cross-disciplinary collaboration, design becomes an advocate for farmers, citizens, indigenous people, animals, monuments, and nature alike – basically for the whole universe.

© SKD, Foto: Klemens Renner
Ausstellungsansicht "Common Knowledge - Design in Zeiten der Informationskrise" Kunstgewerbemuseum, Wasserpalais, Schloss Pillnitz

Info graphics of the BIO| 26 by Studio Ludje (2019)

[Translate to English:] Publikation

For the BIO26 Biennial, the publication Bio 26| Common Knowledge, edited by Thomas A. Geisler, Aline Lara Rezende and the Museum of Architecture and Design Ljubljana (MAO), was published.

ISBN 978-961-6669-57-3.

The catalogue of the 26th Design Biennial consists of five parts that follow the thematic principle of the main exhibition: Information Crisis, Data, Information, Knowledge and Wisdom.

Each volume focuses on a specific topic and contains various contributions, including essays, interviews, opinion pieces, photo reports and infographics.

© BIO 26, Studio Ljudje
Publikation BIO26| Common Knowledge

In Cooperation with


[Translate to English:] weitere

Further Exhibitions
27/06/2020 —01/11/2020

Beauty of Form

in Schloss Pillnitz



in Residenzschloss

Portrait eines Mannes mit Hut und Vollbart

Design around 1800

in Schloss Pillnitz

Klassizistischer Leuchter der Chursächsischen Spiegelfabrik
To top