From Products to Relations

Adding 'jeong' to the metadesigner’s vocabulary

John Wood, Goldsmiths,
University of London, UK

DRAFT of a chapter by Wood, J., (2017), "From Products to Relations: Adding jeong to the metadesigner’s vocabulary", for A Handbook of Sustainable Product Design by Jonathan Chapman, Routledge, ISBN-10: 1138910171, ISBN-13: 978-1138910171


In reflecting upon the designer’s role in an environmentally destructive economy, this chapter notes that design is now an integral part of the system needing reform. In outlining a vision of an alternative 'metadesign' framework, I call upon designers to devise more radical, cross-specialist, comprehensive and strategic working methods. In fulfilling this task I posit ecosystems as exemplars of complexity management. For example, 'sexual recombination' weaves new opportunities from existing data and materials. Thus, instead of focusing on the design of individual products, metadesigners might cultivate a strategic multiplicity of innovations that deliver many synergies. And, instead of simply re-designing discrete services, our metadesign approach would aim to change whole paradigms. Revolutionary, or transformative, processes always change the existing discourse, because our 'realities' are shaped by grammatical constructs and vocabulary. Conversely, by 're-languaging' the right things we can change perceptions. For example, just as the paradigm of western grammar emphasizes the rational integrity of individual agencies and nouns, so, in the traditional paradigm of observational drawing, some designers learn to gaze at the product on which they are working, thus objectifying it as a pure 'form' that is detached from context. This is fine within the product design tradition, where the manufacturer would expect to extract new materials in order to fabricate new forms or products and devices. However, a disadvantage of this individuated, object-centred tradition is that it tends to mask unfamiliar synergies that reside in the relations between, or among, 'things'. This chapter discusses the Korean word jeong as the basis for a more relational framework of practice for metadesigners.


jeong, paradigm, relation, synergy, metadesign


It is well known that industrial processes by humans have contributed to a surplus of greenhouse gases that pose a serious threat to future food security, business viability and political stability. In addressing this challenge, many designers tried hard to re-invent their professional practices in order to ensure our survival, Unfortunately, these efforts failed, largely because of historical and other factors that limited the design profession’s ultimate role and reach. Indeed, over the last century, by acting on behalf of a system aimed at achieving economic growth at all costs, designers became unwitting accomplices to a global disaster. Since the 1970s, by helping to foster the insatiable desire to consume, they played an increasingly important role in developing an economy based on rapid throughput and waste. During the same period, 52% of the number of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish across the globe have been lost (WWF. 2013) and Indeed, three of nine ‘planetary boundaries’ are already believed to have been crossed (Rockström, 2015). These are indicators of environmental changes that may prove critical and irreversible. If so, the Earth’s ‘carrying capacity’ would be seriously reduced, thus making life intolerable for many living creatures, including mankind. These problems were not caused by a lack of technological understanding. Indeed, in the last few decades we have witnessed important advances in medicine, building science, food production and nutrition yet, over the same period, we have seen increases in the number of empty homes and paid workers needing food banks. Likewise, the incidence of obesity and diabetes is now a global epidemic. These problems derive from an economic mindset that emphasises short-term profits (Hutton, 1996), rather than the survival of living species (Leakey & Lewin, 1996). In short, the somewhat limited idea of 'sustainable design' as ‘leaner’ products or ‘greener’ services is not enough. In order to help designers to find more comprehensive and integrated alternatives we are developing a methodology for practical and effective action that we call ‘metadesign’.


I define metadesign as an emerging framework of practice that will enable designers to change, or to create, behavioural paradigms. This is an ambitious task that cannot be achieved by what we currently understand as ‘design’. Paradigms are complex, self-perpetuating systems that are co-sustained by habitual processes that are part of the prevailing social, cultural, economic, aesthetic, psychological, technological and linguistic milieu. As these factors reinforce one another, they fiercely resist change unless they can be addressed in a comprehensive and joined-up way. As this also means identifying simultaneous points of intervention we must devise more comprehensive and radical agenda that includes team-based practices. The ultimate aim of metadesign is to bring about a more ecological and ‘synergy-oriented’ society to replace the existing ‘product-oriented’ world of consumption and profits.

The problem with specialisation

Governments have experts to advise them of the dangers of biodiversity depletion and climate change, so they know that a radical reform in human behaviour is needed. Yet, even though the most powerful international agencies see the seriousness of climate change as a more serious threat than nuclear war (Schwarz & Randall, 2003), our leaders have failed to act swiftly and appropriately enough. Indeed, politicians and civil servants tend to choose the least effective methods, such as setting targets, taxes and penalties (Meadows, 1999). It is strange that they seldom ask designers to help them to achieve the requisite transformation. Commercial corporations have long valued designers for their ability to inspire lifestyle changes, perhaps because they can appeal more directly to the sensory and emotional aspects of daily life. If governments were to employ metadesigners directly to work on behalf of society as a whole, perhaps daily life would become cheaper and safer. It might, at least, provide a more equal basis from which the corporate world could conduct transactions. Given the rapid evolution of social media technology, such a step might also have radical implications for new forms of 'creative democracy' in the future (Dewey, 1939; Jones, 1989). While these are possibilities that might, conceivably, have come to pass in the late twentieth century, this has yet to happen. One reason for the delay is that the modern design industry is still a relatively junior profession consisting of quite disparate agencies, methodologies and practices. This helps to explain why social and environmental problems continue to be addressed in a piecemeal, disjointed or incremental way. The problems we face are structural and monolithic, yet the endeavours of designers are dispersed across a growing number of specialisms. We need new and comprehensive solutions that reconcile resource flows, food security, energy needs, clothing, shelter, mobility and communication in a joined-up and synergistic way. Unfortunately, this grand scale of thinking is unlikely to emerge from individual architects, fashion designers or automobile designers. This is not particular to designers. It is common to all specialisms, because practitioners are usually trained to look at problems that match their special knowledge and skills, rather than seeing the bigger picture, beyond their frame of expertise.

Re-designing design

Although 'sustainable design' has yet failed to save the world, I believe that designers have great potentially as agents of change, especially if government and business will accept their help. But they may first need to develop more sophisticated, cross-disciplinary team methods that qualify them to work at a strategic level. This may take some time, as the fragmentation of the design profession into many specialisms made it easier for corporations to exploit the creative power of designers without being challenged about the ethics or efficacies of their business thinking. Society may also need to be shown that designing at the wrong levels is an expensive and potentially damaging habit. For example, instead of re-designing cities for local diversity, convenience and accessibility, we try to make transport systems faster and more comfortable for commuters. This means that workers waste huge amounts of time and money sitting in trains, buses and cars. Instead of solving this problem at a logistical level we use the increasingly 'green' claims of car manufacturers to attract rail and bus users back onto the roads. Instead of designing clothing for personal shelter, comfort and the carrying of food or luggage, we make fashion items disposable and attractive. Clearly, the need to design at a more strategic level would need the strong support of governments. The idea of metadesign agencies being managed, or supported centrally may sound rather fanciful in the current political context. However, it is not unthinkable. After all, most professionals in medicine, the civil service and police are paid directly by the State to make things run better. In the 1880s, the UK government saw design as a way to sweeten the shift from a craft-based to an industrialised society. By creating new forms of beauty in electric lamps, telephones, railway trains, automobiles and fashion garments designers made useful objects desirable. However, by the second half of the 20th century designers had discovered how to create new products and attune them to prevailing tastes and predilections. In emphasising the rhetorical appeal of products (Buchanan, 1989) they then learned to attune those tastes to the will of the corporations (Forty, 1986). If designers had known how to deliver a more circular, waste-free revenue stream for corporations we might all be in a better place now. Instead, they became the dependable foot soldiers of economic growth.

Multiple temporalities

If metadesigners are to work in more comprehensive and transformative ways, they would benefit from a closer inspection of the relatedness and interdependencies of things. Instead of being commissioned to focus on single products that address single issues or needs, they might also be expected to find what Buckminster Fuller called 'synergies-of-synergies' (Fuller, 1975) that satisfy many criteria and help a diversity of stakeholders in many different ways. Interestingly, challenging the western emphasis on individuality of people and products raises questions about temporality. In particular, it uncovers an important confusion about the nature of time that emerged from the history of western ideas and beliefs. Broadly speaking, after Aristotle, design tended to be conceived as a linear process in which particular products or services are first envisaged, then realised at a later time (Herbert, 1969). Aristotle argued that design is a special category of causation in which the ‘final cause’ of a product was its implied 'future' as envisaged in the act of design. This idea implies that design is a form of management, in the sense that both set out to achieve a desired goal, albeit using different methods (Bauman, 2006). If we were to work within a longer timescale of ‘futures’, this would encourage designers to take more responsibility for their actions. But this would require them to visualise all the possible ways that consumers might use, or misuse, their designs, once they become ready for use. This is an unrealistic expectation because the future spirals away from us in an unimaginable vortex of possibilities. In Aristotle’s terms, the ‘cause’ of next week’s consumer product would be the vision of all the implications contained in one product. This poses a big question about who can, or should, take ultimate responsibility for all of these implications, and this means changing the way we train designers. In evolutionary terms, the timescale of ecosystems is very different from the short-term idea of ‘futures’ that industry still uses. While, in Aristotle’s sense, it is ‘caused’ by a long-term notion of purpose, it nevertheless offers greater emphasis on the shared pleasures of co-designing in the ‘now’. If metadesign can be developed as a collective, co-creative set of practices, then the idea of ‘design futures’ may, ultimately, give way to the preferred quest for a ‘design presence’.

The importance of 'languaging'

Developing metadesign as a way to address big issues, such as bio-diversity losses and climate change, is ambitious. In my view, it means revising many things on many levels, including the way we have learned to think, as designers. This should not mean abandoning our distinctive working ability to re-imagine images and forms, however, it may mean adding more verbal and textual skills to the repertoire. Indeed, the act of naming can work to re-direct, or even to re-design, big systems. In 2002, when we launched the ‘Writing-PAD’ network and, subsequently, our Journal of Writing in Creative Practice we soon found that many design practitioners have mixed opinions about the usefulness of words. Nonetheless, it has been known for centuries that language pre-determines the belief systems that guide our behaviour (Lakoff & Johnson, 1980). One of our metadesign practices is, therefore, to invent new words, or to use them in new ways (Wood, 2011). For example, Maturana and Varela used the word 'language' (i.e. noun) as a verb to describe how living organisms 'language' their situation in order to survive (Maturana & Varela, 1980). This inspired us to re-think the customary binary distinction between theory and practice. The lack of additional words to bridge this distinction reflects a long-standing schism between the text-oriented tradition of monastic scholarship and the working culture of the medieval crafts guilds (Schön, 1985). This separation seems to be perpetuated in the lack of names that help us to optimise the creative interplay between thoughts and actions (Bohm, 1983). Donald Schön's famous term 'reflection-in-action' is a rare exception (Schön, 1985). However, as figure 1 shows, some writing styles can inspire, or guide, pragmatic actions, just as the making of some artefacts has little use-value, except as critical, satirical or philosophical propositions.

Theory Practice Quadrant
Table 1: Revision of the usual distinctions between 'theory' & 'practice'

Re-languaging 'sustainability'

The importance of language in shaping the way that its users behave can be exemplified by common confusions regarding the term ‘sustainability’. At the time of its inception (Brundtland, 1987), 'sustainable development' seemed to represent the modest claim that the poorest nations should be allowed to develop at a pace and extent that would not compromise the future wellbeing of others. Today, we see it routinely used in cynical and exploitative ways to sell products and to inflate the status of particular brands. Whereas living systems depend on a reciprocal basis of exchange, the verb implied within ‘sustainment’ does not. It seldom implies a dynamically active (i.e. in grammatical terms, 'transitive') meaning. For example, when we say that something is ‘sustainable’ we seldom, if ever, ask who, or what, will sustain what. Does ‘Nature’ sustain us? Can we sustain ‘Nature’? The verb ‘to sustain’ has at least two different senses. It may mean integration (i.e. in a non-temporal, structural or organizational sense) or prolongation (i.e. into the future). Even in this latter sense we seldom specify what we expect to be sustained. For example, fresh food may be kept in a refrigerator, but its freshness cannot be sustained. The idea of ‘co-sustaining’ ourselves is not a perfect substitute for the idea of creating ‘sustainable lifestyles’. However, it reflects the fact that we can design neither the present, nor the future. Even this simplified form of design using Aristotle's model of time contrasts sharply with accepted economic theories and practices of accountancy. Where the reflective nature of design practice tends to invite a precautionary or provisional element, standard accountancy practices seem to ‘discount futures’ as though they are extraneous to good business (Gollier, 2004).

Metadesigning paradigms

Tacitly, at the pragmatic level, designers are paid to determine the short-term outcome of their work, but are not required to take into account its long-term impact. If this professional role shields them from a personal sense of responsibility for their design's 'futures', this should also be factored into the design of metadesign. In short, we need a comprehensive 'metadesign' approach that works to improve paradigms, rather than focusing just on products and services. Some dislike the word 'paradigm' because they think its use is pretentious. Ironically, the etymology of the word derives from product design and the mass dissemination of similar products. The ancient Greek word ‘paradeigma’ (παράδειγμα) meant the supreme 'master-version' of a factory product from which 'show copies' were made. The Greeks understood this process as a divine order, in which a succession of copies from the most perfect down to the saleable production copies that were the least perfect. Plato's idea of the 'real' corresponded more closely with a pure topological concept, rather than with any of the more tangible copies (Onians, 1991). From an ecological standpoint, the Platonic idea of a perfect, form-based world has been both seductive and alienating for several thousand years. Today, the proliferation of computer generated ‘forms’ on flat screens has driven the (Platonic) fetishization of abstract form to new levels. If designers are to think beyond this paradigm they may need to move from a strongly ‘product-based’ focus to a more relational emphasis that encourages a richer sensory engagement with the living world.

The paradigm as 'system'

In the twentieth century, the Platonic, product-centred notion of 'paradigm' gave way to a more complex definition when linguists began to use it for discussing structures of meaning (e.g. de Saussure, 1974). The science historian Thomas Kuhn also used it to describe much more complex factors, including the social pressures, cultural assumptions and political structures that may continue to sustain out of date belief systems (Kuhn, 1962). In this modern sense, we can now describe the whole post-Platonic culture of form-driven design as a 'paradigm'. This is a very important idea for metadesigners, as it raises the question as to whether it is appropriate, practical or even possible to 'design' a paradigm. They can be understood as systems that may include designer friendly entities, such as images and material things. However, they will also include ideas, meanings, assumptions, interests and identities. If the paradigm is well established, most of these component parts will seem to conspire to reinforce one another. They will also have come to seem normal to us. This makes them hard to notice, and even harder to change. Explored on a practical level, the key forces that define paradigms are often the vested interests of influential players and their alliances. In my view, we will to design greener life support paradigms before we can know which greener products are needed. But this calls for new ways of thinking that will, inevitably, confound some of our beliefs and assumptions. Working with paradigms would, therefore, entail working with, for and alongside communities, in ways that are sensitively self-aware.

The paradigm of invention

A distinctive quality of a paradigm is that it can withstand many small modifications without losing its essential nature. Hence, in the case of language, substituting different adjectives, nouns or verbs in a sentence will not change its grammatical (i.e. 'paradigmatic') structure. This is a useful model, as it means that one might re-design a paradigm, rather than a given exemplar of it. By redesigning the paradigm of invention, for example, one might achieve outcomes that had seemed unthinkable from inside it. Whereas the word 'invention' implies the finding of an individual 'thing', the words 'enterprise' and 'entrepreneurship' are relational, because they involve the management of several things at once (i.e. 'entrepreneurship' literally means 'taking from within or between). In the UK, the (1843) Utility Designs Act offered a massive reduction on patent registration fees. It enabled any inventor with £10 to secure a three-year copyright. This encouraged a plethora of physical contraptions, gadgets and gizmos, rather than cultivating more comprehensive approaches to the biggest problems. While many of today’s inventions are likely to take the form of a digital ‘app’ that does something cool, both modes of invention tend to focus on single, rather than multiple, outcomes or fixes. The paradigm of invention also celebrates the inventor's originality or individuality and connects with the Enlightenment myth of 'genius'. This belief system wrongly implies that great innovation can usually be attributed to a special individual. However, more recently, we now understand ideation as a combinatorial process, whether or not this takes place in different parts of the brain, or between several people (Koestler, 1964). By modifying the paradigm of invention we might, for example, envisage designers working across disparate fields, such as belief systems in language, species diversity or soil types – mainly to achieve a multitude of outcomes for a variety of stakeholders. Creating a new paradigm of collective invention is difficult using western syntax, not only because of the concepts involved, but also because of the need to understand them from within the relations, rather than the active 'players' creating them.

The paradigm of money

Money is one of society's most influential paradigms, largely because it is a tireless and almost invisible catalyst to action. Georg Simmel noted that “regardless of the amount, the liveliness of attached hopes gives money a glow” (Simmel, 1900, p???). This irrational assumption is what drives bosses and workers alike. For some, the attraction of money is so powerful that seems to be as 'real' as Nature. However, where some have challenged the notion of what Richard called the 'illusion of economic growth' (Jackson, 2009) and pointed out that it is ecologically unrealistic (Meadows, Meadows & Randers, 1972). Where the biosphere is ontological, money is merely epistemological. And, whereas ecosystems consist of living creatures, each with a characteristic personality or spirit, currency systems (especially large ones) are profoundly empty of quality. As Georg Simmel put it, the quality of money ‘consists exclusively in its quantity’ (Simmel, 1900, p???). By spending money we acquire things and dispatch them to other places. Even without touching anything, we act at a distance. Money therefore alienates us from our actions and encourages a dangerous confusion between (ecological) qualities and (economic) quantities. It is important to remind ourselves that large numbers confuse all humans (du Sautoy, 2009), including even the cleverest economists (Kahneman, 2002). What may be clear from this very brief analysis of money systems is that metadesigners will need considerable additional resources in order to make a helpful contribution to the design of economic thinking

Homogeneity and competition

A key feature of the capitalist system is the pressure on successful businesses to grow in size. Another one is the valorisation of competition. If all café owners in one locality were suddenly to become French patisseries or Italian bistros, then their business culture would quickly become more competitive. In this example, however, competition would have derived mainly from a lack of diversity. Arguably, such a situation would be boring for local customers and stressful for the café proprietors. The idea of competition has been favoured by economists for such a long time that we tend to see it as normal. This is also because of the temptation to see the primary source of abundance as quantity, rather than quality. Until now, this idea has made sense in the context of mining, agriculture and money, for example. All of these, in different ways, have confirmed our faith in an ultimate 'economy-of-scale'. Today, however, the future is beginning to look rather different to us. As our non-renewable energy supplies are running down it is easier to see how a more combinatorial culture of design would encourage us to value the differences between locally adjacent things. In short, instead of seeking to scale-up everything in the quest for more of the same thing, we need to cultivate a global 'diversity-of-diversities'. Whereas homogenisation and standardisation will lead to competitive and fragmented business practices, variety and accessibility can foster a more connected 'synergy-of-synergies’. Diversity increases the potential for new combinations, rather in the way that a chef creates unexpected flavours out of several well-known ingredients. The same principle applies within the business world.

The paradigm of synergy

If we are to devise better practical, cultural, economic and political approaches, designers can help by learning to think in a more relational way. They might start by reflecting upon Buckminster Fuller's idea that the universe is a global 'synergy-of-synergies' (Fuller, 1975). This might require a new way of thinking that is combinatorial, rather than product-centred. While the western fondness for seeing things as tangible, individuated objects has inspired huge scientific achievements in terms of material goods, it has also sustained a somewhat eccentric philosophical belief system. What the Platonic form-centred paradigm hid from us is that amassing larger quantities of the same thing is less useful than cultivating a diversity of different things that might be combined in new and meaningful ways. After all, no product, asset or resource has any meaning or use value on its own. Unfortunately, some people find these ideas frighteningly difficult and there are few clear explanations of synergy (Fuller, 1975; Corning, 2003) and even less practical advice for designers (Magee, 2007; Nieuwenhuijze & Wood, 2006). This may explain why the idea of synergy remains so poorly understood today. Buckminster Fuller described it succinctly as the ‘behaviour of whole systems unpredicted by the behaviour of their parts taken separately’ (Fuller, 1975). However, it could also be described as a kind of 'free gift' that Nature bestows when existing entities are combined in the right way. However, abundance only emerges when things are combined in a larger context. Once again, we need to learn from the way that ecosystems work. For example, sexual recombination is a hugely important innovation process that creates abundance by juxtaposing existing resources in a way that offers new possibilities. In a relational sense, the 'difference' can be seen as a resource in itself. It challenges the status quo by shifting professional identities and modifying working vernaculars. Indeed, it probably means preparing designers to anticipate change on both practical and conceptual levels at the same time. In order to attain a 'synergy-of-synergies', metadesigners may need to see the world as a 'diversity-of-diversities', from which an abundance of synergies emerge.

Team tools

An affirmative spirit can be crucially important for facilitating individual creativity. For example, if someone convinces themselves that a task is hopeless or impossible, they are unlikely to act. One of our metadesign consultants coined the term 'contagious optimism' to describe the spirit that he sought to cultivate within his own architectural practice (Davies, 1995). Fortunately, many design thinkers expect to act positively, even though they may have a complete picture of their destination, or methods (Lawson, 2006). Trevor Bayliss, the inventor, persisted in developing his clockwork radio invention, even though every world expert he consulted told him his idea was impossible (Schroeder, 2002). This kind of problem can easily be further magnified, or multiplied, within co-creative teams, especially when ideas and strategies become entangled with emotions. There can also be a temptation to move from playful co-creativity and to engage, instead, in critical debate that can suffocate the processes of unhampered imagination and creativity (Robinson, 2010). This can be especially true where there is a (western) emphasis on preserving one's individual opinion, or where 'truth' seems more important than synergy. In a team of four, each member shares responsibility for making three of the six relationships work (i.e. at least 50% of the total number). In larger teams, the ratio of impact may be smaller, but the complexities of large groups make them more volatile and difficult to manage. We discovered some of these issues in 1995, when our research team began to look for new synergies in the world around us. We soon realised that our search was ineffective because our team was, itself, less than synergistic. We therefore designed tools that encourage affirmative interdependence. Some of them deliberately appeal to the rational mind, even though this may not be the actual problem. We might, for example, ban words like 'but' or 'no'. We may also remind team members that many of the technological miracles that we take for granted were 'unthinkable' to us until relatively recently. The next step is to ask them to think about their possible blind spots about the 'future possible'. The third step is to form small, heterogeneous teams to locate possibilities that are currently unnoticed. Next, the teams would seek ways to realise these ideas as tangible realities.


If designers are to work more satisfactorily with complex systems they need to be able to discuss them using appropriate language. In the West, the idea of individuality became increasingly well defined over the last few thousand years, perhaps leading to less well understood notions of collective presence. The Korean word jeong (정) has the same characters in Japanese and Chinese, but carries different overtones in Korean and no adequate equivalent in English. Arguably, jeong can be seen as a synergistic paradigm that straddles the conventional boundaries of verbs and nouns. It is also a complex emotional bond that unifies people in an ineffable sense of collective duty. Some dictionaries translate it as ‘feeling, love, sentiment, passion, human nature, sympathy, heart’, but this does little justice to how it works. For one reason, it refers to a multiplicity of complex emotional states that are specific to the belief systems and cultural habits of Korea. Notably, jeong is not only significant in terms of its meaning but, also, for the standpoint of its description. Where the southern African word ubuntu suggests a cultural solidarity with common ethical values, jeong more strongly acknowledges the feelings that extend among, and even beyond, the person experiencing them. It may, therefore, be easier to define as (or from within) a feeling, or sense of emotional dependability. Whereas classical scientific thinking inspired an industrial mindset that is rational and reductionist, jeong offers an altogether more complex and emotional framework within which to work. Instead of identifying things objectively (i.e. from an impartial outsider's individual standpoint or perspective), jeong appears to gain its meaning from within a shared field of feelings. Moreover, it seems to be located not only inside our hearts but, also, from outside. In other words, the location of jeong is both within and among individuals. It can be difficult to understand an emotion as being seated outside an individual’s heart, yet it may be related to the idea of collective emotion.

Jeong as a synergistic system

Some systems are designed to achieve homogeneity, standardisation and quantity instead of diversity, complementarity and quality. In others, a competitive culture may simply reflect a lack of technological capability or ingenuity. This is where economic ideologies become entangled with scientific beliefs. Just as a particular reading of Adam Smith's (1776) writings encouraged economists to encourage individual greed, so dubious interpretations of early evolutionary theories inspired a strong belief in the economic virtues of competition. However, subsequent evolutionary theories have also shown that symbiosis is a less expensive way to introduce innovation at the ecological level (Margulis, 1998). This seems apparent when mapped out as a cost-benefit hierarchy of organisational viabilities. Table 2 (below) shows simplified ecological relations that include adjacent organisms within their habitat. Ecologists often map this to depict only two, interdependent players. However, my version also includes the habitat as a 'player'. This is because it is a shared resource upon which all players are interdependent. The table is intended for use by metadesigners, when planning, setting up and managing relations in a business, or a community context. Some companies work within a narrative in which profit is seen as the organisation's ultimate goal. In more realistic terms, survival is always paramount. The survival of a business or species will always depend on the match between its adaptability and the ever-changing conditions of its habitat. Using the language of metadesigners, we might say that an individual's survival depends exclusively on how well it can maintain a correspondence between its internal and external identities (Maturana & Varela, 1980) and its perceived value within the prevailing paradigm (Pimm, 1997). Almost always, this is a co-creative process in which giving is reciprocal to receiving. Indeed, parasitic enterprises where there is receiving without giving are an exception. Again, in developing these ideas it will be helpful to apply aspects of jeong, rather than the western mindset of individual gain, competition and the economy of scale. As the ‘tragedy of the commons’ hypothesis illustrates (Hardin, 1968), if citizens fail to see the contributory effect of their individual greed, sooner or later their actions will compromise the ecological basis for their survival.

grey-spacer.png +++ grey-spacer.png MutualEcosystem benefits / beneficial to both partners
grey-spacer.png ++0CommensalEcosystem benefits / one partner benefits / no harm to the other.
grey-spacer.png ++ExploitativeEcosystem benefits / one partner benefits at expense of other.
grey-spacer.png +0AmensalEcosystem benefits / negative effect on one of the partners
grey-spacer.png +CompetitiveEcosystem benefits / both partners suffer
grey-spacer.png 0++ grey-spacer.png MutualNeutral to ecosystem / beneficial to both partners
grey-spacer.png 0+0CommensalNeutral to ecosystem / one partner benefits / no harm to the other.
grey-spacer.png 0+ExploitativeNeutral to ecosystem / one partner benefits at expense of other.
grey-spacer.png 00AmensalNeutral to ecosystem / negative effects on one of the partners
grey-spacer.png 0Competitive grey-spacer.png Neutral to ecosystem / both partners suffer
grey-spacer.png 000NeutralNeutral to ecosystem / no benefits or difficulties for either partner.
grey-spacer.png ++ grey-spacer.png MutualDamage to ecosystem / beneficial to both partners
grey-spacer.png +0CommensalDamage to ecosystem / one partner benefits / no harm to the other.
grey-spacer.png +ExploitativeDamage to ecosystem / one partner benefits at expense of other.
grey-spacer.png 0AmensalDamage to ecosystem / negative effects on one of the partners
grey-spacer.png CompetitiveDamage to ecosystem / both partners suffer
Table 2: Relative benefit/loss chart for different types of coupling

The idea of exploring the Korean word jeong derives from my 2010 visiting professorship at Kyung Hee University in Seoul, South Korea. Other material in this chapter has been extrapolated from research with our think-tank called ‘Attainable Utopias’ (2002). This led to several years of AHRC and EPSRC funded research that challenged the traditional (Western) focus on 'products' and reflected on methods for auditing and re-designing 'relations'. Before that, I had sought to challenge the way that design tends to be taught at university level. My attempt to seek a new vision of design began in 1989, when introducing a strongly ethics-oriented BA(Hons) Design Programme at Goldsmiths, University of London. This was followed by creation of the Design Futures and Metadesign masters programme in 1995. In 2016 the department was subsequently ranked as number one in the Guardian's UK universities chart.


This chapter reminds readers that, as the design professions evolved alongside an economic and political mindset that has created much of the problems we face, it therefore calls upon designers to challenge their roles, assumptions and methodologies. In addressing issues of climate change and serious reductions in the Earth’s ecological carrying capacity I have therefore adopted an ambitious standpoint by advocating the re-design of design itself. What is needed is a more collective, comprehensive and joined-up approach to life-support systems, based on a better informed and more creative understanding of the biosphere. In seeking an alternative to consumption-based systems of production and disposal I advocate a profound conceptual shift from products to relations. This will have the enormous benefit of shifting attention from making products desirable as possessions to the seeking of synergies on every possible level. As this notion fits awkwardly within the modern Western mindset, I briefly discuss the Korean word ‘jeong’ because it illustrates meanings and possibilities that can be explored and developed by others.


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