Design and Change

What is the role of Change in Design or Design in Change?

Like ‘Synergy’ and the notion of ‘Sustainability’, ‘Design Thinking’ has fast become a new buzzword term. Unfortunately, with the market’s attraction to the potential money-value of these terms it has paralyzed ‘Design Thinking’ itself in becoming a viable force for change in our existing system. But, what is the actual change we are seeking? Within academia there is a general consensus, that our economy and politics, indeed even our dominant lifestyle needs revision if we our to sustain not only our population, but the fecundity of our Earth. Beyond imbuing change with such loaded requirements (not that I don’t think they are needed), I find the term ‘change’ itself interesting. My dictionary defines ‘change’ as:  to make the form, nature, content, future course, etc., of (something) different from what it is or from what it would be if left alone. The process of ‘what it is’ to ‘what it would be’ is, I believe key. Here we see that change is not inherent in any one thing, it is the multiple forces that energize a difference in the essence of a thing.

If we consider then  ‘change’ to be the working of multiple knowledge and action forces on a thing, we must consider how it might actually be possible to bring together these different forces towards an idea of betterment. I believe that we have to break out of our habitual modes of thinking and strive to think in a more active, plural, multi-layered way. Our modern sensibility, passed down from the Enlightenment, has engrained the need for outcomes and linearity, however, we are seeing in contemporary culture these systems don’t always hold up effectively. How can we make creative, multidimensional, global thought truly change the way we lead our lives and where we place value? I believe we can start by awakening our consciousness into understanding the structures and restricted domains of knowledge that press against us. This might be possible if we foreground ‘process’ over ‘outcome’, ask the question how over what, and consider other disciplines (the possible role of science in humanities). When we return the agency to people and things and away from the forces driving us (ones usually empathetic to capitalism), a change is fruitful. Drawing from the proposal of co-authorship by John Wood, the dualism between our Brain-Body network by William Connolly, and Tony Fry’s emphatic call for design as a politics, I see that there is an overall tendency to utilize creative modes of thinking in seeking larger paradigm changes. I created mind-maps in order to better understand the arguments posed by Connolly and Fry and my friend Jacquie made one for Wood below:

Connolly Brain-Body Network

Tony Fry Chapter 3

Synergy and Sympoieses

The reason I find it productive to look at these readings together is because all of them express a dissatisfaction in common perception, dense cultural processes not open to external influences, and structural boundaries drawn by institutions not open to complexity. If we consider: Connelly’s suggestion that  biology has an influence on the act of thinking and vise versa, as recent neuroscience and cultural theory has attempted to do, Fry’s total re-thinking of democracy as stated in his contemporary manifesto, and Wood’s proposal for partnerships and the mixing of specialized skills in creating a design proposal, we might gain a wider perspective by taking into consideration multiple insights. These unacknowledged influencescan be active in imagining change, and it is precisely the opening-up of imagination and the various articulations of change that makes the change.


1 Comment

Filed under Design Studies, Design Theory

One response to “Design and Change

  1. All of these authors manifest what is becoming this age’s design zeitgeist in the ways they explore ‘opening up’ design and ‘raising the design stakes’, as per Design Thinking. It is impossible to compare their visions because their ontology is both ill-defined and not shared. We are in a period of exploration of what design can be. This may be followed by a consolidation of visions, as the passing of time and the unavoidable limitations of human attention span force theory and practice to solidify into a smaller and fewer streams. Whatever happens, design will enjoy a new prominence.

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