Introducing the First Issue 1
A variety of designers and researchers address issues of concern to contemporary design thinking in this first issue1 of Zoontechnica (not counting the pre-issue, now archived). All grapple with questions about how design can, in more substantial ways, contribute to sustaining those things that need to be sustained, like social justice, equity, diversity and critical thinking.
, a recent Masters graduate in Landscape Architecture from RMIT, takes to the street, literally and theoretically, to consider ways in which certain groups of people – in this case, sex-workers and homeless men who use a particular street in Melbourne – are excluded from public consultation processes, and how landscape design is frequently deployed as 'soft policing' in the public domain against such people. Responding to these spatial practices of marginalisation Filipovic proposes, and then critically assesses, a series of design interventions that could ameliorate or contest the situation.
Jason Robertson and Daniel Sobol
, Design Strategists from the Boston office of Continuum, are also interested in questions of design and power. They have worked on humanitarian design projects in many parts of the world, which has prompted them to reflect upon what they call 'the designer's paradox' – a condition of powerless power, in which 'good intentions' are frequently undermined by designers not recognizing the structurally powerful positions they occupy in relation to communities they seek to serve. Linked to this, of course, is the question of ethnocentrism, which like 'the designer's paradox' cannot be erased by an act of will, but which needs to be confronted in all interactions between designer and community, as they advocate.
What Robertson and Sobol touch on goes to the unavoidability of self-other as an ethical relation. This is central to the thinking of Emmanuel Levinas, which Marc Steen
takes up in his paper, 'Reflexive Practice and Human-centred Design'. Steen, from TNO, the Netherlands research organization, writes about the dilemma of 'human-centred design', where again, designers are in a powerful position despite the rhetoric of inclusiveness, co-design, empathy, etc. Rather than attempting to dissolve the self-other gap – which is not possible – he seeks to make it present by studying design research teams that study users, so as to uncover how the researchers' agendas and positions are manifested in their interactions with each other and with 'users'. This involved study of himself and his colleagues as they worked with two different user groups (police officers; and dementia sufferers and their carers) to identify their needs in order to develop telecom applications. Steen describes some breakdown situations that occurred, arguing that they provided missed opportunities for reflexive self-questioning that could have provided insights into the problems (erroneously considered as external to the research team) that were being sought to be addressed by design.
Steen's paper deals with the front end of design while the paper by Chris McGinley and Robert Macredie
, from Brunel University in the UK, focuses on the later stage of design development in their paper. They are concerned with how the needs of actual people, in their diversity and specificity, can be made apparent in the design process rather than needs as projected by designers or marketers. They provide a useful summary of the different sources and types of 'people data' typically drawn on, and the shortcomings of each. Time and budget constraints of commercial projects mean that designers often have to rely on averaged, abstracted 'human factors' data (such as anthropometrics) rather than extensive consultation with potential users. McGinley and Macredie argue that human information needs to be collected, presented and used in ways that acknowledge difference and engender empathy. An implication of their paper is that there is no strict divide between the information that informs the design process and designing itself; 'human information' is pre-designed – purportedly objective information arrives already framed by viewpoints, perspectives, assumptions, values– that inevitably shape design development.
(Design Futures, Griffith University) is concerned with the designed and designing in a larger sense. His paper, 'Time, Things and Futures' brings to our attention something design is always implicated in – which is the giving or taking away of time. To grasp why this is important means understanding different concepts of time, as well as why 'the time of now' is crucial if we are to turn around the defuturing trajectory humanity has been on for several centuries. Enhancing and redirecting the creativity of designers is also vital for facing this challenge – as Donald Welch
(QCA, Griffith University) argues in his paper 'Issues in Teaching Creative Thinking to Design Students', a paper that also explores the difficulties of defining creativity, and registers some of the recent attempts to do so.
It is now widely acknowledged that design has played a central role in creating and sustaining cultures of consumption that continue to use up resources, burn fossil fuels that emit greenhouse gases that lead to climate change, and so on. What's less recognized is that these are not just biophysical problems to be solved by technologies, but that the unsustainable is often that which is closest to us, the everyday world in which we feel comfortable, secure and accommodated (herein lies a dilemma for user-centred design – what to do about user needs/desires that clearly contribute to unsustainability?). Being-in-the-world is being with designed things, structures and spaces that design our modes of being. Sometimes this is obvious, 'the designed' declaring itself as such,but mostly, the designed nature of our worlds is invisible to us, and when everything is working as it should, we feel at ease. We shouldn't. So much of what functions seamlessly now, saves time, delivers convenience, gives pleasure, etc– is actually taking futures away.
Anne-Marie Willis, Acting Editor
1 Not counting the promotional 'pre-issue', that is now archived.
last modified 20111130