Design in Cuba goes beyond form

The week, which featured a broad program of debates, panel discussions, expositions, and fashion shows, served as well to highlight the current work of the National Design Office (ONDI).

Since its creation, ONDI has assumed the task of promoting Cuban design. To do so, it has organized a variety of events, including regular Design Weeks and the Biennial, with its second edition set for 2019.

In addition to the promotional work, the institution has other areas of focus, and includes departments for development, evaluation, and professional training, as well as a registry.


Several projects are being undertaken by the ONDI Development Directorate. According to Boris Luis León Valdivia, its director, the department is responsible for responding to different requests, be they from government or a result of collaboration with other institutions.

The most ambitious one underway at this time is about the Office itself – an investment project to renovate the headquarters.

"This is the greatest challenge, on which the majority of the professional staff is focused. The effort is on designing the spaces, on supporting all the technological solutions, and everything required to achieve functionality in this new headquarters, that is moreover a vision based on design," León said.

Two social projects launched by this department stand out as well. The first is taking place at Pando Ferrer Hospital, better known as La Liga contra la Ceguera (League against Blindness).

Efforts range from the creation of a new image for the institution to a series of steps being taken to improve the building's functionality. Visual communication elements have been designed with the characteristics of patients in mind.

"We designed signs, images, and posters that allow the patient to get around and be informed as well as possible. Remember that this is a hospital for persons with visual problems, and therefore the challenge is to create graphics in proportions which are not the customary ones, and with unusual contrasts.

"An interesting study has been done, along with the clinical part, on colors and dimensions, so that harmony truly exists between the design and the type of services provided by the Pando Ferrer," León noted.

The second project is focused on older adults and includes a study which will in the future generate more design projects. Work is being conducted with the Gerontology Society, in collaboration with the Ibero-Latin American Center for the Elderly, CITED. Alliances are being established with other interested centers, including for example, the José Antonio Echeverría Technological University, CUJAE, in Havana.

The director of development, Boris León, explained, "On this occasion, the role of the Office is to chart strategies and be prepared to inform others about future needs, in this case, on an issue like population aging. being able to talk about furniture, the type of graphics, of messages, not only for the elderly but for the people caring for them, as well."

With six designers, two architects, and the participation of students at the Advanced Institute of Design, ISDI, the Development Directorate is looking to advise entities and provide guidance when it comes to everything that can be done in terms of design.

"The intention is that people see the strategic part and that entities can develop designs with the university and groups of professionals along these lines. We want to create a framework that contributes strategically to the environments, the offices, products… that is, to be present on a day to day basis," León added.


The Registry and Professional Training Directorate was established in 2013, making it the most recent addition to the ONDI. Its objective is to ensure that professionals have the skills needed to participate in the field of design, and that they do so without difficulty.

Toward this end, the directorate is also focused on strengthening the human resources currently listed in the Registry, be they ISDI graduates or not.

Carmen Gómez Ponce, director of this department, reported that more than 2,300 persons have been registered. Of these, approximately 50% are not ISDI alumni, reflecting ONDI's intention of recognizing the work of all designers working in the profession.

"This is accomplished with a Evaluation Commission that examines the portfolio and resume of interested parties. On that basis, people have the opportunity to obtain certification which verifies that they have all the skills and abilities to work in design," Gómez explained.

Another of the department's goals is to promote the presence of these professionals in the country's productive, industrial arena, and wherever design plays a role. Gómez reported that her department is looking to create a framework for the professional development of such persons, be they in public administration, within enterprises, or the non-state sector.

The Registry and Professional Training Directorate is interested in achieving growth in the instruction and development of those interested in design, looking to involve people in projects in which there is an exchange of knowledge between participants from industry, working as technicians, specialists, or self-taught designers.

"Generating more information and being a point of reference to orient people is another of our objectives. We're talking about enterprise managers who want to contract designers, and don't know where or how to do so. What we want is to orient them and give them the information about how to do a design contract."

This Directorate's staff is still small, and is taking initial steps, so the conversation with Carmen Gómez, focuses largely on all that must be done, the challenges and objectives to be met.

"Institutions today, be they state entities or not, are allocating budgets for design activities, and in this sense we are making an effort to ensure that professionals working in this sector have guaranteed certification, and at the same time, that clients feel secure and satisfied with the services they are contracting," she explained.


The Directorate of Evaluation was one of the first offices created after the ONDI's founding. Its function is to determine how design is doing in Cuba and orient the Office and other organizations with regards to design issues.

The work is done by request, based on inquiries that arrive, or in response to convocations issued by ONDI itself, directed to ministries. In some cases, the Comptroller General also releases convocations to detect shortcoming in certain design related issues like visual communication or industrial design.

"Our most recent actions were in the non-state sector, when some restaurants in Havana were evaluated. Their service was observed and also their presentation and the design of visual communication in these spaces," Yamilet Pino, director of evaluation, explained.

This directorate bases its work on Guideline 227 of the country's Economic and Social Policy Guidelines, first approved in 2011 and readjusted last year, which highlight the need to contribute to the development of design in the enterprise sector, to ensure that the importance of design in the early stages of projects is understood.

"The culture of design in the enterprise sector must be further strengthened. Visualization and understanding of how much design can benefit institutions is still needed. All the work done by ONDI is meant to demonstrate all the positives that design can provide to economic development, to give products greater value and make them more competitive," Pino emphasized.

She acknowledged that there are institutions within the country, such as Brascuba, the Havana City Historian's Office, and private companies, which have embraced design – but not all do so.

"Design must be functional and fit the context, in order to play its role. A good design can give a good appearance, but its must also be managed and maintained," Pino noted.

As the 2019 Havana Design Biennial is launched, the National Design Office continues working to make this specialty an indispensable tool in the daily lives of Cubans. "Designing beyond form" is the maxim of this next edition of the event, as well as the aspiration of those who know that a more developed country is a more attractive and efficient one.

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