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.
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.