Mario Gagnon at the World Design Organization

By Louis Fortin, December 6th, 2017

Following 2 terms as an elected member of the World Design Organization board of directors, chaired by Mugendi M’Rithaa of South Africa, Mario Gagnon, founder of ALTO Design, bows out. Here is a summary of his 4 years with the organization, a time marked by unprecedented changes in its nearly 60 years of existence.


When Mario joined the board in 2013, the World Design Organization (WDO) was still evolving as the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design (ICSID). Since its inception in 1957, ICSID’s main focus had been on promoting industrial design expertise and education, as well as providing information on best practices in industrial design based on innovation. At the time, the association was open exclusively to industrial designers.

In 2013, following the dissolution of the International Design Alliance (IDA), which included the ICSID, the International Council of Graphic Design Associations (ICOGRADA), and the International Federation of Interior Designers (IFI), the members of the board of directors, under board chair Brandon Gien of Australia, decided to update the organization. The goal: to better reflect the contemporary reality of the practice of industrial design.

To accomplish this, it was necessary to re-imagine a new entity that would reflect all the players in the industrial design community and not just the designers. It is with this desire for openness and interdisciplinary collaboration that the ISCID became the World Design Organization (WDO), beginning a new chapter in the association’s history.


This change was more than necessary. It was inconceivable that we could reflect on the major societal issues in silos that isolated us from other professionals in our community. It was high time that we changed the elitist attitude the organization had in the past and, instead, rely on a collaborative approach between different professionals and design stakeholders in the broadest sense of the word.” – Mario Gagnon

As a member of the professional practice committee with Pierre-Yves Panis, vice-president of design and innovation at Phillips Lighting, one of the first things they did was review the definition of industrial design. The new definition, presented and accepted at the General Assembly in Gwangju, South Korea, is now the official reference and is available on the WDO website.


In addition to highlighting the practice of industrial design and innovation through design, the WDO also demonstrates design’s capacity to help to create a better world. That’s why in 2015, Mario and the rest of the board decided to support the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) initiated by the United Nations. The 17 universal goals in the initiative are hoped to unite the efforts of government players, civil society, academia, and the private sector in addressing the greatest challenges facing humanity in the coming years. Of these, 7 were identified by WDO members as issues where industrial design could have a major impact.


For us, the goal of publicly proclaiming our support for this approach was to get close to 400,000 designers and other specialists committed to achieving these goals. By stating and specifying the different projects where we can make a real difference, we’re confident that our members will mobilize and put their knowledge and ingenuity to work to this effect.” – Mario Gagnon.

This position statement allows WDO to play a key role from now on in discussions and in the implementation of solutions to achieve SDGs with a unique, innovative, and end-user focused perspective.

To fulfill its commitment and promote the SDG mission among its members, the WDO established World Design Talks in 2016, gatherings to reflect on and resolve local issues with a global significance. To date, 4 such workshops have been held around the world, covering the SDG theme while taking different directions depending on the city and the country.


Despite the size of the projects piloted over the last 4 years in the WDO, it’s the exchanges with his colleagues on the board and other members of the association that have had the greatest impact on Mario’s career. In fact, the depth of this involvement can be explained more by the interactions with individuals from different cultures and with different points of view on design than on any actual changes that have resulted.

It’s amazing how much of the perspective we have in our profession and the role it can play in society is profoundly influenced by the reality of our day-to-day lives and our local issues. It’s why a designer in Botswana has a point of view very different from a designer in South Korea. And it’s these differences that make our encounters and interactions so interesting and constructive.” – Mario Gagnon


Now that the WDO is more than ever rooted in the reality of the profession and the world where it evolves, it’s clear that Mario’s contribution as a member of the board of directors has been very positive.

I think we can be very proud of the work that’s been done over the past 4 years. Naturally, we would have liked to have done more, but we do have to leave something for next generation, right? All joking aside, I am grateful to be leaving the WDO board of directors with the organization is such a strong position, with a new positioning and the strategic tools for meeting any future challenges that come our way.” – Mario Gagnon

To learn more about WDO, now being chaired by Luisa Bocchietto, please visit

Share this content