Sitting last week in a workshop on the theme of ‘design’ I found myself uncomfortable with the tone and tenor of the offering. I realized eventually that the source of this discomfort was the assumption on the part of the workshop facilitator that ‘design’ was a manipulative process, a means of imposing one’s will on the world, of giving the world a shape related to one’s ‘picture’ of how things might be or should be.

I found myself wondering about alternative ways of practicing design which might be less directive and interventionary, which might go with the grain of the world rather than against it. I found myself wondering what alternatives we might use if suddenly the word ‘design’ was denied us, removed overnight from the English language.

If not ‘design’, then, how about:

Appropriate response – In a given context and a given environment, how do I use my skills and the tools available to skillfully respond to a ‘design problem’?

Problem solving – What stands in the way of a skilful outcome, and how can I remove these obstacles?

Biomimickry – Has nature worked on this problem, and if so, what was her answer?

Simplification – Can the elements of this situation be reduced to useful and usable components, suitable for generating core patterns and deep understanding of the more elaborate systems upon which they’re built?

Pattern recognition – As in the ‘simplification’ pathway, can we discern in a welter of data or experience any ‘red thread’ which seems to recur, bind together or give meaning to the whole?

Affective optimization (‘happiness’, ‘freedom’, ‘affiliation’) – What are the elements of the environment in which we’re working that will afford access to the human aspirations which drive affective connections?

Naming/coding/storytelling – Does this situation resonate with our deep need for narratives which give meaning and structure to life?

Knowledge transfer – What kinds of knowledge are appropriate to consider in this situation, and how best might we arrange for knowledge to be transferred from one site (or person) to another?

Social poetics – Can we bring two horizons of meaning (the conceptual worlds of at least two players or agents) into close proximity, such that they inform, provoke, problematise or ‘feed’ each other?


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