Designer as Accelerator

By | January 10, 2023

Source: Sam Rye

I completed an exercise in era analysis over the past couple of weeks, and some thoughts emerge from the datapoints and patterns observed. First, when one considers the body of work completed over 30 odd years of professional practice, one of the first things that strikes is that a) there definitely has been an evolution in practice that resembles Buchanan’s four orders of design, however, b) the timeline itself implies that the diagram should be horizontal rather than vertical as shown above, in order to reflect the trajectory of practice development over time. Time works best on the x-axis, imo.

Found object via Google’s image search

Here, one can see that as complexity increases in the operating environment, one must transition through the four orders of design in order to integrate all of the objects of design – from symbols to thought – for interventions designed for most complex adaptive systems, the wicked problems of our contemporary era. I will have to create my own version of this diagram in order to best represent what I saw during my analysis. The point is, that the designer’s role has also evolved over the past couple of decades of this century.

In complex and complicated operating environments, the designer’s role is closer to that of an accelerator rather than the common verbs used to describe the evolving role in recent literature, for ex. designer as facilitator, designer as enabler. My rationale is based on taking a systemic point of view.  Within a complex adaptive system such as the informal trade micro-systems I have studied in East Africa, the design of an intervention may help facilitate sensemaking or can enable participants to take actions based on the activities introduced, but are we fostering agency and capacity to effect changes once they complete the donor supported intervention?

Systems test adapted from Arnold & Wade (2015)

Interventions can now be approached from the objective of acceleration – can we facilitate and enable participants’ capacity to accelerate the flows within their socio-economic system or their sense of their own creative agency to respond to changes in their social and environmental operating conditions? Accelerating change thus then becomes an act of skills development, and a change in perspective among the participants – one that motivates and empowers them to make self-determined changes to their own daily practices.


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