The  installation in Occidental Square at last years Seattle Design Festival
Seattle Design Nerds' Plushcadia installation in Occidental Square at last year's Seattle Design Festival TREVOR DYKSTRA

Would you saddle up to a stranger in Occidental Park for some one-on-one time? Chitchat, that is, not cruising. In these fast-changing times in our fast-changing city, that takes trust, something the Seattle Design Festival hopes to cultivate with this year’s edition, TRUST, running September 6-21 citywide.

Getting over your stranger danger mindset is part of the appeal of SDF Block Party in Occidental Square (September 8-9), where you can make a new friend in strategically positioned Adirondack chairs, explore a maze that your predecessor may have made more—or less—confusing (and you can do the same to the next person who walks through it), and solve a gravity puzzle—providing you find some trusted compatriots to help out.

“We see trust breaking down in many ways,” Surya Vanka, board president of Design in Public, the non-profit that sponsors the festival, told The Stranger.

Just as we in the media struggle with trust in an era of fake news and a president who slanders the press, the design profession is facing a similar crisis of conscience, Vanka said.

To that end, this year’s design festival is taking a broad look at trust issues in design—from how AI is testing our trust in technology, to the inner workings of government that question our trust in the system, to equity issues that have challenged designers’ ability to earn the trust of communities.

“We want Seattle to be a city that works for everyone,” Vanka said. “Everybody’s not a designer but we want them to think like designers.”

Vanka lauds the Seattle Design Festival for taking this democratic approach, which ultimately touches some 30,000 attendees, from those who stroll through the block party and play a trust exercise to diehards who will line up at the Central Library for the sold-out lecture by Bonnie Siegler.

He contrasts Seattle’s design festival with the more esoteric, high-design leanings of Barcelona Design Week and Dutch Design Week. “What we’re incubating in Seattle is not designers on pedestals, but design for everyone,” he said.

As a result, the truly citywide festival will be popping up all over town as designers of all stripes emerge from their lairs piled high with coffee cups and crumpled drafting paper (actually just-deleted AutoCAD files in this day and age). Landscape architects will demystify their craft at the Roberto Maestas Plaza in Beacon Hill. The nearly dozen design outfits nestled in the Rainier Oven Corp. building in Little Saigon will throw open their doors. The impassioned folks behind Recharge the Battery—down, but not out, after the city nixed creative ideas to repurpose the Battery Street tunnel—will be showcasing ideas to redesign Battery Street post-viaduct.

Other highlights include an excuse to visit the Gates Foundation Discovery Center for the opening of a new exhibit on design in the developing world, a launch party for our own PNW design journal Arcade, an opening bash at slick new millennial members-only club Collective, and a neo-futurist rooftop dinner.

All of which makes Vanka conclude, like a proud papa, that Seattle is “one of the few laboratories on the planet where new design is happening.”