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Change… What happens when change occurs? We get asked to adapt and adjust our ways of doing things in order to accommodate the change. This diminishes the amount of struggle we go through and pushes us to innovate. Especially in Transtion Design.
A major threat to innovation is to oversimplify design and its role in society. Margolin once said that “Somewhere along the line [design] became marginalized as an artistic or aesthetic practice only, which obscured our awareness of all the designing that was going on.” Be wary of people who marginalize design in such ways because everything you see, cities, medicine, chairs, or your smartphone were all designed by someone.
Desing it is not just about making things look interesting; it is about usability and function, about solving real-life problems. Things are designed for a specific purpose.
Design is central to the creation of objects, environments, and experiences that, in turn, create culture. These creations also mirror and shape their time in history.
Just think about it: the first iPhone came out in 2007, which created a major shift in the tech industry. Smartphones arrived in the market and became incredibly popular, just like that. And now, only 15 years later, these devices are owned by around 45% of the world’s population or 4.8 billion people. Additionally, because of these devices, numerous platforms have been built and designed that are part of our everyday life, like:
Smartphones have changed the way we communicate with one another, what we prioritize in our day to day, and our ability to accomplish a whole range of tasks and activities.
Additionally, Covid-19 has pushed us to use technology more than ever before. Since the start of the pandemic, people had to retrieve into their homes and work and study remotely. This global event has pushed technology to evolve in a direction that holds collaboration and communication at its core.
Technology is not the only thing that is being pushed to change in these trying times. As people, we need to evolve as we experience the repercussions of disease, global warming, and political unrest. Thomas Berry states that:
The historical mission of our time is to reinvent the human – at the species level, with critical reflection, with the community of life systems, in a time-developmental context, by means of story and shared dream experience.
Design: always a lot to consider
As designers, when we tackle a problem and try to solve it, we must keep in mind the technical, commercial, and human considerations. ‘A purely technocentric view’ is unsustainable and won’t help transform our surroundings in a holistic way. One must be a design thinker, which is one who has “empathy, optimism, iteration, creative confidence, experimentation” and one who embraces ambiguity and failure.
A good designer has to understand the true complexity of the problems they are working with and avoid repeating past mistakes by oversimplifying certain issues.
With major change occurring all over the world, a field called Transition Design emerged in 2012, from the Carnegie Mellon University. Transition Design focuses on local and place-based cosmopolitan lifestyles but with global information exchange and awareness.
Some Characteristics of Transition Design Include (Reimagining Activism by Narberhaus)
1) the recognition that whole societies and their infrastructures must transition toward more sustainable states;
2) that these transitions will require systems-level change and a deep understanding of systems dynamics.
- Develops solutions that protect and restore both social and natural ecosystems by creating mutually beneficial relationships between people, the things they make and do, and the natural environment.
- Sees everyday life and lifestyles as the most important and fundamental context for design.
- Emphasizes the need to resolve conflictual stakeholder relations while leveraging area of agreement/alignment.
- Emphasizes the value of developing compelling visions of long-term, sustainable futures: stakeholders are able to transcend their differences in the present by focusing on a future they can all agree upon.
- Designs solutions for short, medium, and long horizons of time, at all levels of scale of everyday life (the household, the neighborhood, the city, the region).
- Looks for emergent possibilities within problem contexts and amplifies grass-roots efforts and solutions that are already underway.
- Develops ‘ecologies of solutions’ that are linked and act as steps on a ‘transition pathway’ toward the long-term future vision.
- Distinguishes between ‘wants’ or ‘desires’ and genuine needs and bases solutions upon maximizing the satisfiers for the widest possible range of needs.
- Sees the designer’s mindset and posture as an essential component of transition designing.
- Calls for the reintegration and re-contextualization of diverse transdisciplinary knowledge.
Designing for change is not an easy task, but for doing it successfully, we need to step away from our previous isolating world view and turn towards one that is inclusive and interconnected. We have had great breakthroughs in fields ranging from medicine to education. Now we need to consciously transition into a more sustainable way of being in this world.
If designers considered the Transition Design characteristics in their work, they would start to question their existing frameworks. It would push them to look at a problem from a different angle, innovate, and come up with solutions that benefit people, animals, and our environment. This is the time when we bring our heads together to design a more sustainable, resilient, and inclusive future.