Design Futures at Media and Communication
The irony of discovering the thing you seek is, in fact, residing in the work itself happened today… Reuben and I presented our work to the School under the Design Futures group and made us realise what it is that makes our collective interesting. Before I forget, here are some realisations from the conversations we had.
- Design/designing is enabling. This seems a fitting key concept for Design Futures. Neal then mentioned how he thinks about design as propositional or provocative, and that was an interesting way of thinking about ‘enabling’ as well. Alongside that, I guess there are many other adjectives too – questioning, reflecting, playing…
- Strong connection between artefact, people, process/method and practice. This is in contrast to areas that tend to separate them out individually as THE thing that represents design eg. especially artefacts, or in HCI-esq discourse where method is the king. Our area makes this connection/relationship between them central, and in doing so, brings a different way of presenting/talking/sharing/researching design. In fact, I think we need to be better at talking about this connection, and that will make what we do even more interesting.
- Related to the point made above, connecting design to different fields of knowledge/discourse/practices. Design, in fact, becomes the bridge or the needle that ’stitches’ fields together. This changes the conversation where design had to be ‘different’, ‘unique’, ‘original’ emphasising separation rather than connection – we celebrate the similarities between design and other fields because we see design’s agency when it ‘lives’ in contexts outside of its field domain.
- Participation is a strong value we bring and promote. We practice it, as well as interrogate it.
Reuben and I then later lamented how little we share / talk about our research with one another these days. I haven’t seen his work since he began. I miss the Design GRCs – I think we took that forum for granted and so I really see the impact of its absence now. Lets bring it back – or at least, have ‘mini GRCs’ within our group!
Slides from my preso:
Oscillation between artefact and process – I used this as a framework
artefacts that trigger / scaffold engagement, and in turn,
engagement that creates artefacts or experiences (ie, open-ended and contextual = human-centred)
Visualising a human-centred designer
In a recent talk by Professor Martin Wood (which I thoroughly enjoyed – more about it in another post) he showed this picture by Oskar Schlemmer, who once taught at the Bauhaus. I’m not that excited by its geometry, but I liked the way the lines went beyond the person – connecting them to something bigger/broader/others. It reminded me of the power of drawing/visualisation as a way to articulate things beyond what words can, in capturing some of the thoughts I had about the inherent relational qualities of human beings.
“The Japanese term for ‘human being’ is ningen (人間), composed of two characters for ‘person’ (人), and ‘between’ (間). The Japanese understanding of human as in-betweenness, etymologised by ‘between person’, situates it as a relational being. This is the central framework for my notions of ‘self’ and being ‘human’[i]. This concept of human is strikingly different from major Western philosophies that emphasises ‘anthropos’ or ‘homo’, denoting the individual. Being human-centred is criticised for perpetuating an anthropocentric position[ii], further contributing to humanity’s self-centredness and environmentally destructive behaviour. The profound ethical difference of conceiving humans as detached and in isolation, compared to the Japanese concept of human as relational in-betweennes, is argued by one of the most significant Japanese philosophers of the twentieth century, Tetsuro Watsuji[iii] . He was influenced by hermeneutics, phenomenology, Zen Buddhism and the Japanese indigenous spirituality of Shinto. In his book Rinrigaku, ethics in Japan, Watsuji is critical of Western philosophy (Heidegger and many others[iv]) that emphasises the individual concept of self and the locus of the ethical problem pertaining to the consciousness of the individual.”
Writing taken from ‘A ‘way of being’ in design practice: Zen and the art of being a human-centred practitioner’, published through Design Philosophy Papers.
It started with a simple venn diagram…
The frustration I felt when I saw the presentations on sustainability at the research stream of AGIdeas is that there’s a limit to what design can do if its still locked in the same old paradigm of producing better products (eg. using less energy, using recyclable / renewable materials). Its what Fumi said at the DESIS talk – the explosion of eco-friendly market in Japan over the last 20 yrs has had a ‘rebound effect’ (offset from the introduction of new technology) making little to no impact on CO2 emissions (see the line graph at the top of the chart – in fact, the CO2 emissions have gone up over the last 20 years)
“Since late 1900s, Japanese industries together with academy and the government aimed to develop environmentally efficient products, applying eco-design methods. The results were so fruitful that the market was filled with ‘eco products’. And as a result, the total amount of material and energy consumption have increased, so as GHG”
Perhaps this is why the DESIS framework, with the inclusion of social innovation AND sustainability interests me. If design is about creating meaning, experiences and relationships, it is centred on people – not products – and so the processes and outcomes of social innovation needs to be sustaining for people and sustainable for the environment.
I then drew this diagram – an addition to the venn. I don’t know if this is ‘cheating’ but instead of the overlaps (which venn is good at showing), I wanted to visualise the agency of design as practice/process-driven. I tried drawing ’stitching’, ‘bridging’, or drawing a ‘cog’ but none of them seemed to capture what I’m thinking.
The ‘bridging’ resonated with me because of the readings I’m doing at the moment on social networks and social capital. There is a well-trodden hypothesis that innovation comes at the edge of a ’structural hole’. ‘People whose networks bridge the structural holes between groups have earlier access to a broader diversity of information and have experience in translating information across groups. People whose networks bridge the structural holes between groups have an advantage in detecting and developing rewarding opportunities. Information arbitrage is their advantage. They are able to see early, see more broadly, and translate information across groups … brokerage across the structural holes between groups provides a vision of options otherwise unseen.’ (Burt 2004, p. 354)
So, then I interrogated that social innovation, it being a field, but it too is also process-driven. That social innovation and design is, in this instance, the two sides of the same coin. The field in which it operates within could then be visualised as many – for social inclusion; disaster preparedness; community cohesion… bringing in stakeholders who represent/advocate/contribute different knowledge or practice perspectives.
Design brokers that process, bringing people together from different backgrounds, thereby creating a fruitful space for social innovation to take place. Because design always operates outside of itself (designers shouldn’t design for designers – that’s called incest), perhaps this gives them the ’structural hole’ edge advantage…?
How tools have shaped our hands, and us
Being a knackered after work and vegging out in front of the telly, I came across this TV program called ‘Origins of us’. I love natural history documentaries and in a parallel universe, I am sure I would’ve been a geologist, archeologist or a biologist (is this long intro is a reflection of my guilt for watching so much TV…!?)
Anyway, the bit that was most interesting was when the scientist was comparing the skeletal bones between a chimp and a human. They said that chimps often need to eat their fruit with two hands, because their hands aren’t very good at gripping objects, often using their lips and teeth to do the maneuverings when humans would do this with their fingers. The reason why humans evolved (over 3 million years from Australopithecus afarensis to Homo Erectus) a thicker bone in their thumb was because of the tools they were using.
The presenter compared two tools – one that used a stone as a hammer to shape another stone, and another that used a sharp stone blade to slice through meat. The sensors in the hand indicated that the more ‘evolved’ tool – ie, the sharp stone blade, involved more force on the thumb, because it had to grip the smaller tool to undertake the complex process. This strongly indicated that these tools that our ancestors designed were the reason that our hands developed the thicker bone in our thumbs. And so our hands have evolved to do very complicated things, which also evolved our frontal lobes (for thinking).
Its quite astonishing to think that human evolution was not only to do with external causes (ie, change in climate, environment, food, predators) in the way that most species would’ve been forced to evolve, but driven by what early humans created and used. This evolutionary process is on-going now – the things we design make us who we are – we are continually ‘becoming’.