Lecture & Discussion – 2.11.2019

Mindset & Posture

Terry Irwin

Living in and through transitional times calls for self-reflection and new ways of ‘knowing’ and ‘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 and are situated within. Designers’ mindsets and postures often go unnoticed and unacknowledged but they profoundly influence what is identified as a problem and how it is framed (setting context) and solved. 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 phenomena of worldview, posture and mindset and their connection to wicked problems and proposes that shifting values and postures can be part of an intentional process of self-reflection and change.

The session will begin with a brief lecture on mindset and worldview, and an introduction to the concept of mechanistic vs. holistic worldviews. This will be followed by a discussion of the readings and how belief systems affect not only how and what we design, but what we see as problems worth addressing.

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

Supplemental Readings

  • 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 – 2.13.2019

The Mechanistic vs. Holistic Worldview

The Mechanistic Worldview: 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, a 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).

The Holistic Worldview: In contrast to the dominant, reductionist paradigm, 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  physicist and author 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 of the holarchic connection 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, calls 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

  • How does the mechanistic worldview affect how designers view the natural world and influence the way they see and solve problems?
  • 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?
  • Is it possible to design responsibly and sustainably from within a mechanistic paradigm? In what ways would it impede solutions?
  • Is it possible to design responsibly and sustainably from within a mechanistic paradigm? In what ways would it impede solutions?
  • 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

  • Capra, Fritjof and Luisi, Pierre Luigi. 2014. The Newtonian World Machine. In The Systems View of Life: A Unifying Vision. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 19-33*

Supplemental Readings

  • 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.*
  • 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*
  • Irwin, Terry and Baxter, Seaton. 2008. The Dynamical View of Natural Form. In C.A Brebbia (ed.) Design and Nature IV. Southampton: WIT Transactions on Ecology and the Environment, vol. 114. pp. 129-138.
  • 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*
Discussion – 2.18.2019

Diversity & Equity

Arturo Escobar

In this class, professor, anthropologist, activist and author Arturo Escobar will discuss his new book Designs for the Pluriverse: Radical Interdependence, Autonomy, and the Making of Worlds. In the book he presents a new vision of design theory and practice aimed at channeling design’s world-making capacity toward ways of being and doing that are deeply attuned to justice and the earth. Noting that most design—from consumer goods and digital technologies to built environments—currently serves capitalist ends, Ecobar argues for the development of an “autonomous design” that eschews commercial and modernizing aims in favor of more collaborative and place-based approaches. Such design attends to questions of environment, experience, and politics while focusing on the production of human experience based on the radical interdependence of all beings. mapping autonomous design’s principles to the history of decolonial efforts of indigenous and Afro-descended people in Latin America, Arturo shows how refiguring current design practices could lead to the creation of more just and sustainable orders.

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

Discussion Prompts

  • In what ways do Transition Design (TD) and Autonomous Design (AD) complement each other, or are in tension with each other? Would it be more proper to speak, for Escobar’s approach, about “Autonomous Transition Design” (ATD)?
  • Is AD/ATD only appropriate for design/ing work with local, grassroots communities? Can you envision applicability at more than local-level transition processes?
  • Is AD/ATD only, or largely, appropriate to situations in the Global South? Can you envision applications in the Global North?
  • In what ways do CMU’s Transition Design (TD) and Autonomous Design (AD) complement each other, or are in tension with each other?
  • A main tenet of AD is that the design process should always aim to understand deeply (albeit not necessarily share its entirety) the political project of the communities and/or their organizations. As a transition designer, how do you feel about this feature of the framework? To what extent does it require, or presuppose, a change in the mindset of the designer?

Read Prior to Class

Supplemental Readings

  • De Sousa Santos, Boaventura. 2018. Why the Epistemologies of the South? In The End of the Cognitive Empire: The Coming of Age of Epistemologies of the South. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. pp. 1-15*
  • Costanza-Chock, Sasha. 2018. Part 1: Traveling While Trans. Design Justice, A.I., and Escape from the Matrix of Domination. Medium Post, July 27.*
Discussion – 2.20.2019

Contextual Thinking

The social, cultural and ecological fabric in many parts of the world has often been severely damaged through top down and bureaucratic interventions into socio-technical systems. The anthropologist James C. Scott, amongst others, has argued that many twentieth century social and environmental catastrophes were caused by large-scale, centralized urban and rural planning. This failed to allow for the complexity of local and regional cultures, ways of life and ecosystems. Regardless of whether they were well intended, such interventions were often damaging because they were contextually inappropriate — they were not tailored to local environmental constraints and conditions, social practices and cultural norms.

In the early decades of the twentieth century we are arguably more attuned to the need for interventions into complex issues to be contextually sensitive. This is, however, extremely difficult, since decontextualized thinking has been woven into many fields and disciplines, and has profoundly and adversely shaped all of the societal systems on which we depend — educational, political, technological and economic. Developing methods and approaches for thinking contextually is therefore an important feature of transition design. These can become the basis for tools to inform and guide transition interventions.

Transition design argues that holistic thinking is necessarily contextual, and focuses on three broad aspects of human affairs — everyday life, temporality and place — to understand and appraise the context for potential interventions. Because of the tendency towards ‘context denial’ in modernity, each of these three dimensions of context have been marginalized within academia, governance and business. Transition design, by contrast, argues for methodologies that foreground everyday life, place and temporality.

1) Everyday life is the arena in which most of our wicked problems arise, and in which they must be addressed. Immense and complex, but dysfunctional, socio-technical systems have been established to support our daily, weekly and monthly needs, practices and habits — the ways in which we work, play, socialize, educate, raise families, wash, rest, eat, travel, sleep and so on. Any yet, in the words of Guy Debord, everyday life has been rendered “a domain of ignorance”— we have little understanding of its dynamics structure and patterns, or appreciation of it potentialities.

2)Place — from which modern society has in many ways become alienated — can be understood as the emergent and unique character of particular areas that arises out of interaction between local ecosystems, histories, cultures, built environments and social practices.

Most of our socio-technical systems are highly centralized and have been developed without consideration for the unique characteristics of the particular places in which they are located. Our socio-technical systems usually cut us off from and make us unaware of the ecosystems that we are situated within, rhythms and cycles. Globalization has exacerbated this tendency of the modern era to override local social and ecological conditions and place-based lifestyles and cultures. The result is that everyday life has lost, or is losing, its ‘placefulness’; we are coming to live in a homogenized world of decontextualized lifestyles, with a one-size fits all approach to designing, manufacturing, building, growing food, supplying energy etc. Transition design argues that sustainable lifestyles must be local and place-based while cosmopolitan in their global awareness and exchange of information (cosmopolitan localism). It advocates the study and recapture of place-based ‘ways of knowing’, analogous to that of indigenous populations, that can inform the satisfaction of people’s needs at the scale of the local/regional.

3)Temporality: One of the characteristics of modern society is its unhealthy and damaging relationship with temporal phenomena and processes. It is increasingly rapidly paced and has a 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 — abstract time rather than sensory time that reflects local seasond and cycles, practices and customs. As a result the ability to think in terms of dozens of years, decades or even generations that was fundamental to indigenous cultures has been lost. The educator and environmentalist David Orr argues that contemporary society is informed by ‘fast knowledge,’ which is characterized by contracted time horizons and therefore a decontextualization of problems; a belief that there is a solution for every problem (usually a scientific one); a belief that anything important can be measured/quantified; and a belief that new knowledge is better than old knowledge. This ‘atemporality’ is at the root of many wicked problems. By contrast, design within pre-industrial societies was informed by ‘slow knowledge’, a depth of temporal experience and orientation which enabled them to live (and design) sustainably in place for generations.

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

Discussion Prompts

  • Traditional design has usually taken context into account when developing solutions. How, and why, does its approach to context differ that which is being advocated by transition design? Does ‘context denial’ affect design?
  • Why does transition design argue that everyday life is the most meaningful context within which to conceive interventions in wicked problems?
  • When the critics of everyday life argue that it has been ‘marginalized’ and that we are ignorant of its workings what do they mean? Do you agree, and if so how does that manifest in your own life?
  • In what ways have our modern lifestyles become less place-based? What are the advantages and disadvantages of this?
  • Transition Design argues that meeting our needs in place-based ways will be inherently more sustainable. Why?
  • How might design aesthetics shift if we moved to more place-based societies/lifestyles?
  • How could principles from BioRegionalism inform a new, more responsible design process?
  • Without ‘romanticizing’ the past, how can we learn from the ways in which pre-industrialized people lived in place and met their needs inform new ways of designing/living in the 21st century?
  • In what ways do our modern concepts of time affect and perhaps impede designers’ ability to solve problems responsibly and sustainably?
  • 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’?

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, B. and Kaiser, M. 2005. The Anthropology of Time. In About Time: Speed, Society, People and the Environment. Sheffield, Yorks, Greenleaf pp. 66-67*
Discussion – 2.25.2019

Building Community Capacity

Mo Sook Park

The complex, wicked problems that Transition Design aspires to address adversely affect myriad stakeholder groups who often have conflicting agendas, assumptions, beliefs structures and cultural norms. These conflicts diminish a community’s capacity to coordinate effective action and co-create visions of futures they would like to transition toward. In contrast to traditional design approaches in which designers act as external consultants who conceive and implement solutions for communities of which they are not members, Transition Designers help create “spaces” in which communities can leverage their own expertise and understanding of problems in creating solutions (“systems interventions”). In order to communicate, collaborate and co-create effectively with each other, communities must be supported in building the capacity to do so. Transition Designers view their role as supporting in this capacity-building process.

A distinguishing characteristic of the Transition Design approach is its appreciation for the human behaviors and dynamics and how both can either serve as a deterrent from or a leverage point for progress. The approach argues that the root of complex problems often lies in the very human aspects that each stakeholder brings to the table. Hence, to successfully lead the design within complex systems, the capacity to engage other stakeholders in the system is critical – a process that starts by looking at one’s own values, beliefs, and assumptions that you bring to the table.

In this experiential session, Mo Sook Park will introduce one of the key principles of Adaptive Leadership, which argues that leadership is an activity, not a position, or person.  Instead, leadership is defined as the practice of taking responsibility to engage others to face the uncertainties of the future and make progress towards a purpose.  Leadership shifts from being tied to having a formal title, to the practice of intervening the systems that are often dictated by human, and social dynamics.

Another key principle of Adaptive Leadership is to recognize the myth that what people resist is change.  In reality, what people actually resist is the loss that must be endured to realize the desired change.  This understanding is key to being able to mobilize others to engage in addressing the very human aspects of engaging in the Transition Design approach.

In the time we have together, part of the process we will begin to explore what it means to engage other stakeholders and build their capacity to participate in progress. We will pay particular attention to ourselves as stakeholders and investigate how our own narratives, experiences and even loyalties can both fuel as well as hinder our efforts to realize change.  We will then translate those insights into understanding what it will take to mobilize other stakeholders towards progress.

Note: although this class concentrates on Adaptive Leadership as one proven strategy for working with the social complexities found within wicked problems and socio-technical systems, there are many other factors that students should be aware of including: stakeholder conflict and resolution strategies (often found within peacekeeping theory), co-design, and myriad facilitation strategies, all of which aim to: 1) surface the concerns, fears and needs of all stakeholder groups; 2) leverage the resident knowledge and expertise of stakeholders; 3) provide strategies for resolving stakeholder conflict (barriers to wicked problem resolution) and leverage areas in which they do agree; 4) build the capacity within communities to engage in productive civic conversation and the kind of radical collaboration required in transitioning whole systems. See Additional Resources for this class before you begin the readings as it will provide an overview of other perspectives and approaches to building community capacity.

Discussion Prompts

  • Think of a time when you had a deep learning experience at some point in your life. What happened? Who was part of the narrative? What conditions allowed it to be a “deep learning” experience?

  • What is the difference between leadership and authority? Why might it be important to make that distinction?

  • What might be the value of diagnosing the aspects of a challenge that are adaptive, versus technical in nature?

  • Think of a time you were faced with a challenge that you cared deeply about, but despite your best efforts, were unable to make progress on. What might have gotten in the way?

  • Who were the stakeholders involved in the “Leading Boldly” article? What values did each stakeholder group represent? What did each have to lose by engaging with the task of addressing dysfunction in the Pittsburgh School District? How was conflict or the act of “regulating distress” leveraged and used as a way to make progress? What did each stakeholder group have to gain?

  • Why might recognizing one’s own role in the system be important in exercising leadership and engaging other stakeholders to make progress?

Read Prior to Class

Supplemental Readings

  • Heifetz, Ronald. 1994. Mobilizing Adaptive Work. Leadership without Easy Answers. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. pp. 69-100.
  • Heifetz, Ronald; Laurie, Donald L. 1997. The Work of Leadership. Harvard Business Review. January-February. pp. 124-134.