Designer as Citizen Participant, Catalytic Connector and Re-Coding Shaman!

Alastair Fuad-Luke, Professor Emerging Design Practices, Aalto University, Helsinki led an impromptu workshop. The participants of the workshop were Tim Putnam, Greg Votolato, Silvia Schiaulini, Claudia Garduño García, Patricio Davila, Henk Oosterling, Juan Uribe, Helen Chance, Agata Szydeowska, Agata Antonowicz-Tamm and Jan Hadlaw.

The session kicked off with a light-hearted notion that we had received many ‘design aperitifs’, were digesting and reflecting on the main (dis)course and were perhaps in need of ‘design digestifs’ to help the metabolism. This analogy served to stimulate a conversation about the idea of design shifting metabolisms by (re-?)animating and catalysing new forms of co-production (Figure 2). This finally raised the idea of the double gesture in design, a literal di-gesture of unmaking and remaking, of – in Deleuzean terms – re/deterritorilization or a Derridean design as a deconstructive gesture.

Figure 3

At this juncture some words were emerging which the group felt were unhelpful, or even hindered, the conversation. These were placed in a dustbin or trash can…words such as ‘design’, ‘university’, ‘fixing’, ‘sustainability’, ‘recycle’, ‘broken’ and ‘identity’ (Figure 3). Later the word identity was reclaimed from the bin and redefined in terms of consistency, coherency and continuity. And some wondered whether ‘activism’ was a word that pre-conditioned people’s perspectives and was therefore also a difficult word that hovered near the bin! Although it was recognised that design activism challenges and helps create new value systems.

Figure 4

A vibrant conversation followed about the role designers can and could take in shaping new ideas of ‘relatedness’ (‘connectedness’) by going across and through disciplines and perspectives (Figure 4)….by accepting diversity, multi-versity and trans-versity instead of uni-versity. The activity of design, involving ‘spectactors’ (where both spectators and actors work together as spectactors to achieve the outcome, after the Brazilian playwright and theatre director, Augustus Boal), would produce new consistency, cohesion and continuity of fresh relatedness, but it would always be dynamic.

Figure 5

A discussion ensued about how designers code and re-code information (Figure 5) which acts as a foil for continuously re-assessing our identity (and socio-cultural relations?). Code is fixed (the dominant paradigm?) then broken (de-coded) then re-assembled (re-coded) in a search for new meaning and identity. In short: di-gestion. In this sense the designer can act in a shamanistic way operating on the edge of known worlds (coding is understood or accepted) and unknown worlds (coding is different, perhaps ambiguous).

Figure 6

The session rounded off with each participant gifting their current state of synthesis achieved from the conference activities and papers (Figure 6.) Several thematic areas emerged:

Evolution – design and society are both evolving; the present and the past are weaving anew; there is a process of re-valuing and re-contextualising.

Ambivalence – about activism, activity, transferability between cultural contexts; comparative activism.

Personal qualities designers need as activists – look at each individual and listen to yourself; the importance of ‘being with’, ‘listening’ and ‘endurance’.

Positive change – where the ‘designed beauty’ represents ‘good’.

Text by Alastair Fuad-Luke

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