Design Thinking for the post pandemic era

By | November 16, 2020

Design must change if we’re to meet the targets for the climate change goals. And, not only must design transform itself to be utilitarian for the needs of the novel ways of making, doing, being, that are emerging as an outcome of the global pandemic shock, but at the same time these new systems must be resilient and robust enough to cater to the needs for the ongoing climate change shocks as well.

Both the pandemic and the impacts and transitions of the Anthropocene upon our natural living environment are systemic shocks of a global nature. However, what distinguishes these two systemic shocks is that whilst both are planetary in scale, it is the intensity and duration of their own specific impact shocks distinguishes them.

Covid-19’s impact across multiple aspects of our global system has been intense, rapid, and acute. It can be considered a stress test of systemic resilience and inherent adaptive capacity of self organizing complex adaptive systems. Climate change impacts are slower to be perceived, less obviously visible, and varying in intensity and duration depending on geography and context.

For instance, the heating up of the planet is only visible in Finland as a retrospective comparison of 2020’s average temperatures against recorded history. This would not have been as obvious to most people as the visible transformation on daily life wrought by the coronavirus. Thus, until now, societal stakeholders, researchers, designers and makers working with communities have often struggled to convey the urgency of the need to plan and prepare for the social and economic necessary transformations to our industrialized ecosystems.

Design, as philosophy of making and doing, manifested in the form of products and services, has been recognized as one of the key levers for effectuating transformative change to our ecosystems. It is recognized that a significant proportion (ranging from 70% to 90%) of any given product’s ecological footprint can be addressed at the design stage1. This approach takes into account factors all along the product development chain that can directly or indirectly contribute to environmental degradation; decisions made at the design stage now become crucial in ensuring the best outcome throughout the entire system.

It is clear that now we must begin evaluating schools of design based on their underlying philosophy of values2. Value systems are the intangible aspect of the form giving process that characterizes industrial design yet few are able to evaluate the relative merits of various schools of thought.

For instance, human centered design or user centered design, is a design methodology that privileges maximization of value extraction from an ecosystem to benefit shareholders of the design investment. Whereas, the Scandinavian participatory design approach is configured to privilege the autonomy of the users, who are called participants in the design and development process (and not “users”, which in turn embeds the locus of decision making and agency implicitly) and aims to provide them with the skills and tools to adapt their own industrial ecological systems to best fit for purpose.

“Purpose” here is collectively defined by consensus of all stakeholders, which may include the shareholders of the design investment, in addition to their employees, customers, and service providers.

9th November 2020, Helsinki, Finland

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