Lecture – 3.8.2017

Mindset & Posture

Terry Irwin

Living in and through transitional times calls for self-reflection and new ways of ‘being’ in the world. Fundamental change is often the result of a shift in mindset or worldview that in turn leads to new modes of interaction with others. Individual and collective mindsets represent the beliefs, values, assumptions and expectations formed by our individual experiences, cultural norms, religious and spiritual beliefs and the socio-economic and political paradigms to which we subscribe. Designers’ mindsets and postures often go unnoticed and unacknowledged but they profoundly influence what is identified as a problem and how it is framed and solved within a given context. Transition Design asks designers to examine their own value system and the role it plays in the design process. It also argues that sustainable solutions are best conceived within a more holistic worldview that informs more collaborative postures for interaction. Transition Design examines the phenomenon of worldview, posture and mindset and its connection to wicked problems and proposes that shifting values and postures can be part of an intentional process of self-reflection and change.

This lecture will provide an overview of the Mindset and Posture section of the class and touch on topics related to: the contrast between mechanistic/reductionist and holistic/ecological worldviews, what it means to take up radically collaborative postures and the importance of thinking in long horizons of time.

See Additional Resources for this class before you begin the readings.

Discussion Prompts

  • In what ways are we living in and through transitional times?
  • Is it possible to intentionally shift one’s worldview? What are the conditions that might support or even trigger a shift?
  • How are current, typical ways of being in the world problematic? Is self-reflection and awareness of your own value set part of your design process?
  • In what ways does your worldview affect how you frame problems and go about solving them? Does it blind you to certain things? If so, what do you think they/it might be?
  • Can you think of problems or conflictual situations whose root cause is opposing worldviews?
  • In what ways is it possible to ‘decode’ the worldview behind many designed artifacts, communications and environments? Begin to play with this idea.

Read Prior to Class

  • Mathews, Freya. 2013. Post-Materialism. In Stuart Walker and Jaques Giard (eds) The Handbook of Design for Sustainability. London: Bloomsbury. pp. 27–42*
  • Goerner, S.J. 1999. Contrast in Scientific and Cultural Visions. In After the Clockwork Universe: The Emerging Science and Culture of Integral Society, Edinburgh: Floris. pp. 444–451*

Supplemental Readings

  • Morin, Edgar and Kern, Anne Brigitte. 1999. Reform in Thinking. In Homeland Earth: A Manifesto for the New Millennium, New York: Hampton Press. pp. 123–132*
  • Ehrenfeld, John R. 2013. The Roots of Unsustainability. In Stuart Walker and Jaques Giard (eds) The Handbook of Design for Sustainability. London: Bloomsbury. pp. 15–26*
  • Speth, James Gustave. 2008. A New Consciousness. In The Bridge at the End of the World: Capitalism, the Environment and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability. New Haven: Yale University Press. pp 199–216*
Discussion Session – 3.20.2017

The Mechanistic Worldview

Minrui Li, Chirag Murthy, Vikas Yadav and Olivia Shoucair

Since the scientific revolution of the 17th century the dominant, western worldview or ‘way of knowing’ has been characterized by a reductionist approach to understanding and a mechanistic mental model of the universe. This worldview is characterized by a belief in predictability and control, values quantity over quality and views nature as a resource or storehouse for human consumption. It is also characterized by postures of competition vs. cooperation, tendency to think in terms of cause/effect and short horizons of time and has led to an economic paradigm predicated upon unbridled growth and a single-bottom-line, for-profit metric.

This mechanistic worldview influences every aspect our society, economy, culture and values, is at the root of many of the wicked problems facing society and has affected design in several ways. 1) Design’s strong relationship to the consumer-led marketplace has increasingly come to define designers’ role and potential;  2) the imperative to think and design in ever shorter horizons of time (time = money) and produce quick results encourages the de-contextualization of problems (all stakeholders are not served, issues of sustainability cannot be considered);  3) the emphasis on ever greater degrees of specialization can be a barrier to transdisciplinary, cross-sector collaboration on large, complex problems (experts cannot collaborate from within postures of certainty and their own disciplinary norms). Transition Design argues that in order to design for societal transition, designers must take up postures of radical collaboration and become more conscious of their own value sets and worldviews.

See Additional Resources for this class before you begin the readings.

Discussion Prompts

  • How does the mechanistic worldview affect how designers view the natural world?
  • How does a mechanistic worldview affect one’s response to/affinity with approaches like Transition Design?
  • In what ways do many global ‘wicked’ problems have their roots in an outdated, mechanistic worldview?
  • How does the dominant/mechanistic worldview influence the way designers, see and solve problems? Can worldview cause designers to be blind to certain problems while seeing others?
  • Is it possible to design responsibly and sustainably from within a mechanistic paradigm? In what ways would it impede solutions?
  • How is a reductionist worldview related to Max-Neef’s theory of needs and the concepts of needs vs. wants and desires?

Read Prior to Class

  • Ritzer, George. 2011. Extracts from The McDonaldization of Society 6. Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press. Extracts pp. 1–162 (approx 9 pages; seminar participants will be sent a compiled pdf)*
  • Abram, David. 1996. The Mechanical and the Organic. In P. Bunyard (ed.) Gaia in Action: Science of the Living Earth, Edinburgh: Floris. pp. 234-242*
  • Mumford, Lewis. 1974. Enter Leviathan on Wheels. In The Pentagon of Power: The Myth of the Machine vol. 2. San Diego: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich. pp. 98–102*
  • Shiva, Vandana. 1999. Peace With Diversity. In Biopiracy: The Plunder of Nature and Knowledge. Gabriola Island: South End Press. pp. 101–106*

Supplemental Readings

Discussion Session – 3.22.2017

The Holistic Worldview

Francis Carter, Bori Lee, Monique Smith and Leah Jiang

In contrast to the dominant, reductionist paradigm discussed in the previous session, a new ecological/holistic worldview has begun to inform the theory and practice of many fields and disciplines and has been referred to by environmentalist and Fritjof Capra as “The Systems View of Life”. This shift from a reductionist to a holistic way of seeing the world (from a mechanistic to organic model) has, in part, been due to discoveries of the mid- twentieth century, particularly from the fields of physics and chaos and complexity science. Most importantly it has led to a new understanding between ‘whole’ and ‘part’, that shifts the emphasis from ‘things’ to relationships and explains the anatomy and dynamics of complex systems. This new, emerging paradigm emphasizes empathy, relationship, participation and self organization, which will call for new mindsets and postures of openness, speculation, mindfulness and a willingness to collaborate. Together, these represent a new skill and value set — a new way of ‘being’ in the world — that the work of designing for transition will require.

Changes in the field of design over the past two decades have reflected this same shift, with the rise of new approaches such as interaction design, experience design and design for services, all of which focus on the quality of relationship with complex systems and ecologies of people, ‘things’ and communications. Transition Design shifts the design focus to the need for entire complex societal systems to change and argues that this type of work must be undertaken from within a new mindset and posture.

See Additional Resources for this class before you begin the readings.

Discussion Prompts

  • What are additional ways in which the emerging paradigm has affect design/designers?
  • What does Orr mean by “the great conceit of the industrial world is the belief that we are exempt from the laws that govern the rest of creation”?
  • How would a shift to a more systems-oriented, holistic, ecological worldview underpin a more sustainable way of designing?
  • In what ways would design practice need to further change in order to embody a new worldview? In what ways would design education need to change?
  • How much value do you yourself place on your ability (or inability) to collaborate with others? Do you see it as a crucial part of 21st century design practice? Do you believe that the co-design process is less satisfying that working alone?
  • Transition Designers will need to help ‘seed’ and catalyze change within the organizations that employ them. Many of these will be operating within the old paradigm. What are strategies for seeding change while simultaneously needing to do your job well and meet your organizations objectives?
  • How do concepts of empathy and empathetic relations relate to user-centered design approaches? Does it imply something beyond ‘user’- centered?

Read Prior to Class

Supplemental Readings

  • Spretnak, Charlene. 2011. Relational Revelations. In Relational Reality: New Discoveries of Interrelatedness that are Transforming the Modern World. Topsham: Green Horizon Books. pp.1-20*
  • Thiele, Leslie Paul. 2011. The Fabric of Life. In Indra’s Net and the Midas Touch: Living Sustainably in a Connected World. Cambridge: New York Press. pp 1–5 and pp. 7-19.*
Guest Lecture (Hannah DuPlessis) – 3.27.2017

Mindset and Posture of a Transition Designer

Hannah DuPlessis

Within an ecological paradigm, designers themselves are part of an ecosystem. Yet, within this context they cannot impose their will on the system. Learning to work with the system’s inherent intelligence is key to creating any sustainable shift. Through the use of improvisation exercises and discussions, this class will focus on four key skills a transition designer needs to cultivate. They are 1) being present; 2) being open and accepting; 3) working with emergence and; 4) reflecting and learning.This lecture/exercise session will explore what it feels like to put some of the concepts from the previous session into practice. Wear comfortable clothes and flat shoes.

See Additional Resources for this class before you begin the readings.

Read Prior to Class

Discussion Session – 3.29.2017

Thinking Temporally

Ashley Varrato, Adrian Galvin, Michelina Campanella and Meric Dagli

One of the characteristics of modern society is its rapid pace and propensity to think in ever shorter ‘horizons’ of time; the fiscal quarter, the fashion season or annual projections. The modern world is obsessed with the measure of time and our entire society is based upon the construct of the mechanical models of clock and calendar. However, our focus in on the present or near term; the ability to think in terms of dozens of years, decades or even generations was fundamental to indigenous cultures and has been lost. Instead, society is informed by what educator and environmentalist David Orr calls ‘fast knowledge,’ which is characterized by the de-contextualization of problems, a belief that there is a solution for every problem (usually a scientific one), that anything important can be measured/quantified and that new knowledge is better than old knowledge. This type of thinking is at the root of many wicked problems.

By contrast, design within pre-industrial societies was informed by ‘slow knowledge’ which enabled them to live (and design) sustainably in place for generations. The readings introduce the concept of thinking in ‘long horizons of time’ (Brand) and of societal ‘pace’ layers; the temporal system of checks and balances that are characteristic of healthy society . Transition Design argues that 21st century designers have much to learn from the way in which indigenous cultures viewed their world and saw themselves as a strand in a complex web of life (Capra). Their ‘temporal thinking’ enabled them to live sustainably in place for many generations.

This discussion will look at the concept of time and Orr’s distinction of fast vs. slow knowledge and examine how many pre-industrial societies’ reckoning of time was place-based and able to integrate concern for future generations into its decisions in the present.

See Additional Resources for this class before you begin the readings.

Discussion Prompts

  • In what ways do our modern concepts of time affect and perhaps impede designers’ ability to solve problems responsibly and sustainably?
  • What are some of the typical ‘time horizons’ within which you live and work? What is the longest time horizon you are concerned with?
  • What are examples of ‘fast knowledge’ dominating the design profession in negative ways? What are the positive ways in which it has affected design?
  • In what ways might design benefit from the integration of ‘slow’ knowledge? Would it be at odds with the dominant economic paradigm? If so, what are ways in which they might be reconciled?
  • Do you think it is possible for people/society to make decisions with future generations in mind? Is it possible to design for the ‘seventh generation’?
  • What are ways in which your everyday life would be different if you lived/worked/played/designed with future generations in mind?
  • Can you imagine a lifestyle which was not dominated by the clock and calendar? If not, why? If so, how would it be different from the life you currently lead? What are the implications for work?
  • How is Brand’s concept of Pace Layers related to the concepts of slow and fast knowledge?
  • Within the context of Pace layers, at what level do 21st century designers work? At what level did pre-industrial, indigenous people design/work?

Read Prior to Class

  • Orr, David W. 2004. Slow Knowledge. In The Nature of Design: Ecology, Culture, and Human Intention. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp 35–42

Supplemental Readings

  • Woodcock, George. 1977. The Tyranny of the Clock, from The Anarchist Reader. Glasgow (UK): Fontana Press. pp. 132-136*
  • Jorgensen, Britt and Kaiser, Mireille. 2005. The Anthropology of Time, from About Time, Tim Aldrich ed. Sheffield (UK): Greenleaf Publishing*

In-Class Activity

Close class by mapping Mindset & Posture onto the double diamond design process.

  • Where might a Transition Design mindset have the greatest impact on a traditional design process?

The Double Diamond is a widely used visualization of the non-linear design process. Created by the British Design Council, the double diamond describes the divergent and convergent thinking designers employ in framing problems and designing well-considered, human-centered solution.

The first diamond describes the exploratory research phase of the design process, as designers conduct human-centered research to move from a general problem space towards a specific problem. From there, designers diverge once more to explore possible solutions before narrowing down towards a single design.