Lecture & Discussion – 2.12.2018

Theories of Change & Critiques of Everyday Life

Transition Design argues that the social, economic, political and technological systems upon which society depends must transition toward more more sustainable futures. Seeding and catalzying change within complex systems will require a deep understand of the nature of change itself—how it manifests and how it can be intentionally directed. Transition Design is centrally concerned with Theories of Change — how and why societal systems change or remain inert, and how such change manifests and can be catalyzed and directed towards desirable and sustainable futures. Theories of Change is a key area within the transition design framework for three important reasons 1) A theory of change is always present within a planned/designed course of action, whether it is explicitly acknowledged or not;  2) Transition to sustainable futures will require sweeping change at every level of our society;  3) Conventional, outmoded and seemingly intuitive ideas about change lie at the root of many wicked problems. Readings for this class include several theories of change from fields and disciplines outside design.

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

Discussion Prompts

  • Think of a solution you have designed and try to identify what your implicit theory of change was.
  • What assumptions about change was your design based upon?
  • In what ways would explicitly identifying a theory of change be useful?
  • How can theories of change or ideas about how change manifests from other fields and disciplines be useful in designing for transition?
  • Have you ever explicitly identified a theory of change as part of your design process?
  • How does a theory of change relate to design research?
  • Can you imagine using theories of change explicitly as part of your design process?

Read Prior to Class

Supplemental Readings

Discussion – 2.14.2018

Alternative Economics

One of the root causes of wicked problems is the dominant economic paradigm that is predicated upon the maximization of profit and unbridled growth on a finite planet. The transition to more sustainable futures will require the development of new kinds of equitable and integrated economic systems in which most of people’s needs can be satisfied locally, although some will rely on global networks. In this class, several alternative economic approaches are discussed that place concern for people and planet on an equal footing with profit. Transition Designers must be aware of the ways in which the dominant for-profit paradigm impedes the ability of societies to transition to more sustainable, place-based lifestyles and they leverage an understanding of alternative economic models to conceive more sustainable solutions.

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

Discussion Prompts

  • In what ways is design connected to the unsustainable, dominant economic paradigm?
  • Why is an alternative form of economics called ‘circular’? To what does it refer?
  • What are the main differences between the dominant, ‘for profit’ paradigm and the alternative models discussed in the readings?
  • Speculate on how everyday life would be different in a predominantly ‘sharing’ economy.
  • How does the concept of ‘the commons’ relate to a discussion of alternative economics?
  • How might an increased importance on ‘the commons’ affect design solutions?
  • Is it possible to have a thriving economy based upon cooperation and sharing rather than competition? What are some of the ways in which everyday life would change? How would it change the way designers work?
  • What are the advantages of a local economy? Is it possible to meet most of our needs locally?

Read Prior to Class

  • Korten, David. Seven Points of Intervention. 2010. In Agenda for a New Economy: From Phantom Wealth to Real Wealth. San Francisco: Berrett Koehler.

Supplemental Readings

Discussion – 2.19.2018

Manfred Max-Neef’s Needs

Within the context of lifestyles and everyday life, understanding how people go about satisfying their needs is a key strategy for developing sustainable solutions. Everyday life could be thought of as an emergent property of people going about the activity of satisfying their needs. Everyday life is an important, yet often overlooked context for understanding society and the forces which mold it. Transition Design proposes that everyday life and lifestyles should be the primary context within which to design for sustainable futures and an improved quality of life. Everyday life emerges as people go about the business of satisfying their needs. Manfred Max-Neef’s theory of ‘needs and satisfiers’ proposes that needs are finite and universal, but the ways in which people meet those needs are unique to their era, culture, geographic location, age and mindset. Transition Design argues that everyday life is more likely to be sustainable when communities are self-organizing and therefore in control of the satisfaction of their needs.

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

Discussion Prompts

  • How is  Max-Neef’s theory of ‘needs’ different than more well known theories such as Maslow’s theory? How is the difference significant? What possibilities for design does it open up?
  • What are some examples of needs satisfiers that are inappropriate, misconceived or ‘counterfeit’?
  • How can the distinction between genuine needs and wants/desires be relevant to designers and design process?
  • How might design problems be framed differently if the primary context was everyday life? Discuss how the same problem, framed first using traditional design approaches and secondly using everyday life as the primary context, lead to different solutions?
  • Does framing problems and solutions within the context of everyday life and lifestyles have implications for user-centered design and research?
  • Discuss what is meant by the argument that everyday life is an emergent property of people meeting their needs? Speculate on the relationship between needs satisfaction and everyday life.
  • How are Max-Neef’s concepts of pseudo-satisfiers and counterfeit satisfiers connected to wicked problems?
  • In what ways can design for integrated satisfiers become part of sustainable/transition design process or strategy? Is designing for integrated satisfiers inherently more sustainable?
  • Can the distinction between genuine needs/integrated satisfiers become a way of critiquing design solutions to ensure they are sustainable?

Read Prior to Class

Supplemental Readings

Lecture – 2.21.2018

Design for Behavior Change

Dan Lockton

The design of products, services, environments and systems plays an important role in affecting what people do, now and in the future. Many visions of transitions to sustainable futures assume large-scale changes in human behavior; first arising in programs around energy efficiency and recycling in the 1970s and 80s and coming into wider public and political awareness since the Rio Earth Summit, sustainability researchers have tried to establish how best to encourage people to live in more sustainable ways. While Social Practice Theory considers everyday activities at the level of constellations of devices–skills–meanings, design can also engage practically at the level of people’s interaction behavior in context.

In recent years, research on behavior—and behavior change—from areas of social and cognitive psychology, health psychology, behavioral economics, decision science, human factors, and other fields has been adopted within design, variously known as design for behavior change, behavioral design, persuasive technology, ‘nudge’ design, or in the case of specific focus on sustainability, design for sustainable behavior. There are a variety of insights from different disciplinary perspectives which can be explored and applied within the context of people’s attitudes, behaviors, motivations, understanding, imaginaries and framing, for example via ‘design pattern’ collections.

From a Transition Design point of view, it is important to understand that each approach taken necessarily embodies particular assumptions about human nature, values, culture, the structure and homogeneity of society, and the distribution of agency and power. Critiques of much behavior-focused work center on its ethics, its over-emphasizing of individualized decision-making (at the expense of social and contextual factors), particular definitions of rationality, under-emphasizing structural constraints, and a narrow determinism often founded in a modernist perspective.

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

Discussion Prompts

  • Thinking about an everyday behavior, how does design affect what you do?
  • Thinking about a time you have changed your behavior, what factors affected you?
  • Are you motivated by knowledge, values, capacity, life-stage or community?What types of behavior/psychology support or inhibit change/transition toward sustainability?
  • Pick a ‘behavior change’ measure or program you are aware of. What assumptions about people are embodied in the approach?
  • What ideas about society and humans are reinforced or challenged by promoting particular models of change?
  • Why might it not be enough to appeal to people’s ‘better nature’ when advocating sustainability/transition measures?

Read Prior to Class

Supplemental Readings

Discussion – 2.26.2018

Social Practice Theory

Transition Designers must achieve  a deep understanding of the dynamics of change within complex social systems—how change can be seeded, catalyzed and directed. Social Practice Theory studies how immersive practices, habits and behaviours or ‘ethnographies’ combine with constellations of devices, skills and meanings that comprise our everyday lives. Social Practice Theory attempts to identify opportunities for change in everyday life and can inform design solutions that leverage these opportunities in order to  shift social systems over time into more sustainable trajectories.

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

Discussion Prompts

  • Why are social practices considered to be ‘inertial’?
  • How can designers leverage social practices in developing transition solutions? How does social practice theory relate to, supplement or run counter to user-centered design approaches?
  • Are there temporal differences between Social Practice Theory’s study of practices and user-centered design?
  • Speculate on how a particular set of practices might be an opportunity for a transition design intervention or solution.
  • What is the relationship between social practices and the satisfaction of needs? In what ways might they enhance design research and process

Read Prior to Class

Supplemental Readings

Discussion – 2.28.2018

Intro to Socio-Technical Systems

Transition Design argues for societal transitions to more sustainable futures. This means that society’s infrastructures, or what is referred to  ‘socio-technical systems’ will need to undergo radical (systems-level), long-term change.  Socio-technical systems are TANGLES of living and designed/mechanistic systems in which technology plays an ever-increasing role. They are bound up in complex webs of relationship, interactions and physical infrastructure that become ever more dense over time. Socio-Technical Regime theory studies how socio-technical transitions have taken place throughout history (such as the transition from horse-drawn carriage to the automobile) in order to seed and catalzye transitions for the future. Socio-technical researchers have developed a multi-level framework for understanding how change manifests at multiple levels of scale within these complex systems. The Multi-Level Perspective (MLP) can be a useful tool for identifying leverage points and opportunities (at multiple levels of scale) for design solutions aimed at shifting these systems into more sustainable trajectories.

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

Discussion Prompts

  • What is the relevance of sociotechnical regime theory for design and designers?
  • Speculate on how understanding historical socio-technical transitions could serve as the basis for strategic ‘systems interventions’ (design solutions, projects, initiatives).
  • Can you identify shifts and changes occurring at the landscape level that open up opportunities for projects and initiatives at the niche level? Can a seemingly negative/problematic or even catastrophic event at the landscape level open up opportunities at the niche or regime level? Does this work in reverse? Is one level of the MLP better suited than others for design interventions?
  • What experiments at the niche-level are currently in process? Which ones have the potential to positively disrupt the regime? What might the future trajectory look like? How could opportunities at the landscape level be leverage to amplify the transition?
  • How could the MLP complement/supplement traditional problem finding/framing/solving?
  • In what ways are the MLP and Social Practice Theory complementary? How can they supplement traditional design practice and research?

Read Prior to Class

Supplemental Readings

Discussion – 3.5.2018

Types of Socio-Technical Transitions & Assignment #3

Researchers have been studying and documenting the ways in which historic socio-technical transitions have happened as a basis for intentionally seeding and catalyzing intentional societal transitions toward more sustainable futures. This class will discuss the ‘typologies’ of socio-technical transitions in order to understand the contributing factors and events at different levels of scale (the landscape, the regime and the niche). Several distinctions of types of change and the way in which different transition ‘pathways’ evolve will be examined.

This class and the previous one form the foundation for Assignment #3: Mapping a Socio-Technical Transition, which will be assigned and discussed in this class.

See Additional Resources for this class before you begin the readings and Assignment #3 in the Assignments section of this website.

Read Prior to Class

Supplemental Readings

Assignment #3: Mapping a Socio-Technical Transition

Assignment 3: Mapping a Socio-Technical Transition will be introduced in the last 20 minutes of class. As homework, teams should review their research (and conduct additional research if needed) to ensure that they have identified events, changes in social norms, beliefs, practices, technological developments etc. that have contributed to the rise of the wicked problem they have been working with during the semester. Team will use the next class period to work on Mapping a Socio-Technical Transition in which their wicked problem is implicated. Refer to Assignment #3 for more details.

Work on Assignment 3 in class – 3.7.2018

Mapping a Socio-Technical Transition: Assignment #3

Using a large project canvas provided, Teams will use the entire class period to map a socio-technical transition that forms the context for their wicked problem. Another way to think about this assignment is to look at what historical socio-technical transition gave rise, or formed the roots of the wicked problem in Pittsburgh you are studying. Teams will present their work in progress during the last 20 minutes of class for feedback and will submit the assignment on the Team’s Medium site. Refer to Assignment #3 on the website for more details.

Things to think about when formulating your presentations

  • Speculate on how easy or difficult it was to trace a socio-technical transition using the MLP. Could you imagine using it as a design strategy?
  • Was your team able to think in terms of technology transition? Does it feel like a skill that you might get better at?
  • Does our habitual way of thinking in short horizons of time impede our ability to see transitions in hindsight and follow a trajectory into a probable future?
  • What techniques/approaches need to be developed to take into account how social norms and belief systems shift over time and the way in which they influence transitions?
  • In what ways might working with the MLP enhance or conflict with traditional, more established design approaches?

Read Prior to Class