We believe that nothing short of a paradigm change will be radical enough to avert an impending force-majeure of extinctions and climate change. This means finding a more joined-up approach to food, shelter, clothing, energy and mobility, so we hope that designers will play a key role. Unfortunately, designers are still trained to support the economic system that needs changing, so we are reinventing design as metadesign. This is difficult. One reason paradigms resist change is because they seem so 'normal' that we no longer see them. In seeking inspiration from outside the problematic context we looked at ecosystems. Unlike managerial approaches, which tend to frame strategies and assign hierarchical roles, ecosystems depend on a high level of diversity and interdependence to cope with a succession of (evolutionary) paradigm changes. In the light of these principles we created metadesign teams that were leaderless, flat-structured and diverse. Also, instead of asking them to design discrete 'services' or 'products' we developed tools that would help them to look for, or create, 'synergies' at all levels. This was the most challenging aspect of our research, as it required a combination of mindful, and somatic, methods of practice that alert metadesigners to hitherto unnoticed, hidden or embodied knowledge that might help them, collectively, to envision the next paradigm. Our concept of 'network consciousness' evolved as a way to map all relevant agents within the system, whether animate or inanimate.
The paper describes our framework of practice, some of our design tools, and what we learned when we invited designers to apply them. The first practice workshops was conducted in (c.f. 2005 but most are since 2010. They include workshops in Tokyo, 2011, Kookmin University, Seoul, 2011, Goldsmiths University, London, 2011, Seoul National University, 2011, Kunsthøgskolen i Oslo, 2011, Lisbon, 2011, Goldsmiths, London, 2012, The Westminster Hub, London, 2012 and Kunsthøgskolen i Oslo, 2012. Our quest reflects the belief that previous attempts to 'green' design (e.g. 'design for sustainability') are not adequate for the scale and urgency of the task. What is needed is a step change in lifestyles and, therefore, behaviours that is sufficient to enhance biological diversity and to halt carbon emission trends. However, this would require a more radical, comprehensive and integrated approach than one might expect from designers. This amounts to a paradigm change that would also require changes in creativity and production from those charged with implementing the changes. If designers are to play a key role, what is needed is a profoundly self-reflexive, joined-up 'metapractice' that enables designers to work collaboratively with stakeholders. Where designers have, hitherto, tended to work as the 'fixers' of links in a chain of transactions, they would also be expected to design the conditions, or the framework, that would sustain appropriate interdependencies within whole systems. We have been working on this idea since 2005, when we received our first AHRC and EPSRC funding to explore what we called metadesign. Our research sought to address what we saw as the failure of environmentally-led initiatives (e.g. 'design for sustainability' or 'service design') to halt climate change and the cascade of extinctions.
Design, in the current professional sense, began in the 1880s as a set of specialist practices that proved useful within the development of a consumption-oriented economic system. The commercial success of these practices meant that there did not seem good reason to join them together as a completely comprehensive discipline, as mooted by some (e.g. Fuller, 1969; Jones, 1992). If, instead of focusing on specific commercial entities, products or services, designers are to address the complex and changing needs of whole communities this will require a shift of emphasis. For example, co-creative teams would need to share, and to re-envision, new information on a continuous basis. However, the complexity of working at such a level is too high to enable the customary predictive nature of design to operate. Notwithstanding the practical and ethical limits to ‘designing’ how people congregate, communicate and behave, metadesigners might be invited to create the basis from which more traditional design practices would emerge. Our work advocates a form of ecomimetic co-creativity that looks for complex relations and synergies that emerge from co-designing within the community. In seeking to theorise, and to facilitate, optimal working relations among all of the players, we borrowed Marvin Minsky's working definition of 'consciousness' - i.e. 'a low-grade system for keeping records’ (Minsky, 1988, quoted in Horgan, 1993). In two previous papers on this topic (hidden*) we extrapolated this model into a methodology for mapping the discrete level of interconnectedness between each, and every other, part in the whole system (see also Kvitash, 2005). In this case we see the 'system' in question as a team of collaborating design practitioners. In our second paper, we showed methods for mapping interdependencies among all of the participants. We defined each of these relations as elements of 'reciprocal awareness' that, when combined, constitute what we call the 'consciousness' of the whole network. Within this shared domain there would be a merging of things that have, hitherto, been seen as different. Similarly, in some areas it would be important to make new distinctions that had been unnoticed, or unneeded, in the previous paradigm.
In order to change the behaviour of humans, design practice will need to become more attuned to the complexities of whole communities, and this calls for a more transdisciplinary, joined-up approach, in which specialist designers must harness their own practices, but within a new, and unfamiliar context. While designers are taught to (re)design for an existing paradigm, a more radical approach is needed.
For example, many architects are trained to invent numerous iterations to high-rise offices. However, radically re-thinking the underlying (high-carbon) paradigm of concrete, steel and glass is much more difficult. Like all paradigms, this system of building seems 'normal' to us. It is ubiquitous to virtually all cities in the world, whether in London, New York or Beijing. Here, it may be helpful to consider all complex systems as 'paradigms' as a way to reflect upon ecosystems in a way that relates to the systems that are familiar to designers. Both contain animate, and inanimate, agencies and sustain themselves by attracting new elements that serve to support them (Kuhn, 1962; Maturana & Varela, 1980; Lovelock, 1979). Hypothetically speaking, redefining the agreed purpose of a paradigm should make it easy to change (c.f. Meadows, 1999, p. 18).
In seeking to work beyond, or outside, paradigms it is helpful to look for similarities with living ecosystems. Whereas the 'skyscraper paradigm' may seem like a conceptual system of relations, living systems seem to be organic and 'actual'. Nevertheless, it is important to remind oneself that both normally resist change when they are sustained by an interconnected array of subsidiary paradigms (or quasi-species), such as insurance protocols, commercial habits, technological habits, economic assumptions - each of which appears to depend on it for their own survival (c.f. Kauffman, 1995). An 'ecomimetic' approach (c.f. Fairclough, in Jones, 2005, p. 42) is significantly different from what is known as ‘biomimicry’ (e.g. Benyus, 1997). Although 'biomimicry' was defined within an admirably broad philosophy, the way that designers tend to apply it seems disappointingly narrow. Perhaps this reflects the prevailing business mindset, in which projects are seldom seen as part of a circular, or long-term economic vision. Even today, it is hard to find examples of biomimetic innovation that do much more than behave as discrete technological 'fixes', gadgets or products. The shift from technocentric design practice to a more ecomimetic one is another example of a 'paradigm shift'. This may also need to happen when two practitioners from very different fields try to work together.
(Meta)designers may learn from other fields when building their own. For example, David Bohm has pointed out that, at the quantum level, there is no meaningful distinction to be found between ‘theory’ and ‘practice’ (Bohm, 1980). And, in seeking to describe the phenomenological 'reality' of different creatures, the pioneer eco-semiotician, Jakob von Uexküll (1864-1944), used the term 'Umwelt'. This is an important idea, because it reframes the question more biomimetically, by bringing together experience, ‘meaning-making’ and action in order to describe how living creatures survive. This phenomenological approach suggests that no two creatures experience the world in quite the same way. Even though symbiotic relationships may develop within the affordances of an existing language system (i.e. what Maturana & Varela call 'structural coupling') it may not be immediately obvious how two sides of a 'conversation' conjoin. In the above example, whereas the human is able to see things, the tick is blind. On the other hand the tick is able to locate its prey because it is far more sensitive to the temperature of mammals. We believe this to be a helpful lesson for metadesigners. It suggests that, by augmenting and refining existing naming systems, we can expand our ‘Umwelt’. It reminds us that, in order for communities to survive and flourish we may not need common ‘truths’ across a whole system. This understanding may also help us to re-map our (human) ‘vested interests’, empathetically, in conjunction with other species.
The common tick (Ixodes hexagonus) shown next to a matchstick and human hand
In the above example (above) whereas the human is able to see things, the tick is blind. On the other hand the tick is able to locate its prey because it is highly sensitive to the temperature of mammals. We believe this to be a helpful lesson for metadesigners, as it suggests that, by augmenting and refining the naming system we have, we can expand our Umwelt. It reminds us that, in order for communities to survive and flourish we may not need common ‘truths’ across a whole system. This understanding may also help us to re-map our (human) ‘vested interests’, empathetically, in conjunction with other species.
In accord with our ecomimicry principles, we set up teams by 'casting' designers to represent a range of different backgrounds, in order to work together on problems that were outside their experience and 'comfort zones'. We then sought to 'level' the group's cultural, or professional inclination to set an order of decision-making hierarchy for their team. We used a number of tools that we devised, or 'borrowed' from management practices, and elsewhere. One of our successful tools derives from the work of Gestalt psychotherapist, Bert Hellinger, who counselled trauma sufferers who were unable to speak about their experiences. Hellinger's methods are systemic in the sense that they assume the presence of 'hidden orders' that, mysteriously, steer the moods, demeanour and actions of any group of people who become bonded by shared circumstances, loyalties, clan or mission. This is a reasonable assumption, if one accepts that most teams have a particular history, or a set of constraints, that may remain invisible or inaccessible to most of its members. Importantly, Hellinger believed that humans 'know' more about the status of a group of people than they know about the individuals in the group. But, in this context, the term 'knowing' encompasses different levels of what normally call 'consciousness'.
It is always easy to underestimate the importance of tacit knowledge within collaborative teamwork, because it is seldom 'shown', except when novices need instruction. Nor can tacit knowledge be 'said' (Wittgenstein, 1921). Nevertheless, in achieving paradigm change it is vital to be able to find new, or hidden knowledge, in order to harness it, where appropriate. In daily life, a great deal of information is held, and communicated, as embodied knowledge. Michael Polanyi quotes Immanuel Kant who spoke of unformalisable powers when describing a doctor's diagnostic skills. What we might now describe as 'tacit knowledge' Kant described as an art hidden in the depth of the human soul. However, Polanyi's example is one in which a lengthy medical training and experience has led to a high level of tacit understanding that can be applied in spontaneous acts of judgement. As this level of mastery cannot be assumed for users of our tools, we need to design the conditions within which designers will apply their own best judgements. We decided to do this by designing a structure and rule-base within which metadesigners will work.
In one of our experiments, all participants were asked to rank themselves according to a range of different criteria (e.g. age, seniority, qualifications, experience, income) so that ranking showed changes in the order. These type of tools prepare the ground for the team's attempt to work as a holarchy. After these workshops, most of the participants found it difficult to make clear distinctions between actions, feelings, thoughts, ideas - but it is also hard to remember what happened, in which order the ideas emerged, and which individual was responsible for a given initiative. This work included co-authorship experiments in which we tried to ensure that innovation change occurred, both at the level of work achieved, and also at the level of changes within the participants. The need to engender, and sustain holarchy in metadesign teams means that we need practical ways in which to transform the western, individualised, 'thing-based' language and focus, to one in which we become more aware of (interpersonal) relations. We can then move onto to the relationship between these interpersonal relations and the sum of continuous relations that pervade the whole team, or group (see our four-fold integration tool). Until now our work has harnessed subjective observations of shifts in body language in order to register the tacit (somatic) exchanges that may not be apparent in the (transcribed) discussions. Another of our methods is a set of somatic processes that can be found in our team relations tool.
|Fig. 1 Participants use the Positioning Tool
|Fig. 2 Embodied Relations Mapped By Participants
In a series of practical experiments, we set up two parallel teams, each made up of five team members, that had been selected to give a similar balance of gender, age, job/role function and experience. We also chose designers from a wide range of specialist backgrounds. Two facilitators were assigned to each team, in order to manage and capture data that would reflect the subtle and complex interactions among the participants. However we found our recording methods (filming, photographing, annotating and drawing) to be inadequate for delivering quick, convenient, comprehensive snapshots of roles and relationships within the teams. We therefore sent some of our team on a two-day training session in running 'Moving Constellations' workshops. These use are based upon the work of Hellinger (1999). (See the team relations tool).
Our experiments took place, in sequence, in one room that measured approximately 5m x 8m, with one side of the space identified as the ‘front’. Participants were briefed about our aims for the sessions and how we would conduct them. In our briefing we emphasised professional roles (as far as this was possible), rather than personalities. Team members were issued with marker sheets upon which they wrote their professional title and up to three qualifying keywords that best described ‘what they did’ (professionally). Each team member was invited to ‘walk the space’ at his, or her, own pace, in order to 'claim the team territory'. This entailed moving around calmly, and comfortable, either with eyes closed or open, and to stop when each had found a ‘good spot’. They were then asked to evaluate where they were (relative to the other team members) and asked if they wanted to adjust their position or spatial orientation. This was done more than once till there was consensus that all were at where they felt they ‘ought to be’. Then, marker sheets were placed on the ground oriented to the ‘front’ and facilitators marked the spatial orientation of each individual with an arrow. Participants then ‘stepped-out’ of the area and collaborated in joining the marker sheets with string laying down an A3 sheet (coded and labelled appropriately) at the midpoint of each interrelational link. The latter was to record the form and level of exchanges or transactions between those linked participants. A prepared grid of the described area was used by facilitators to sketch the resultant positional polygon with all links, participant identifiers and spatial orientations. Distances were paced to provide representative scaling.
While tacit, or somatic, knowledge is vitally important to achieving the highest levels of 'network consciousness', human communities are also co-sustained by the language and customs of existing paradigms. According to Donella Meadows (1999, p. 18), redefining the agreed purpose of a paradigm would catalyse a change within it. However, social inertial is co-sustained by the language and customs of the old paradigm, and these tend to mask opportunities. We have found that the practice of creating new words, when appropriate, serves to clarify new opportunities, or ways of thinking, that previously seemed difficult, unthinkable or impossible. While they are helpful in maintaining continuity and cohesion with the social order, they may also mask opportunities that had not been needed, or remain unnoticed. We have encouraged some experimental teams to explore, combine, revise, and create new metaphors and working terms, as this can bring focus to new opportunities, or different ways of thinking. In some cases it can enable teams to achieve tasksand synergies that previously appeared difficult, unthinkable or, even, impossible.
Many synergies within Nature transcend known, or named boundaries of language. To some extent, it is their ineffability that renders them unpredictable. In previous papers we have argued that designers should make more creative use of language in 'design thinking'. This is not meant to imply that they should try to think in a more 'critical' way, but that they could be more creative with the terms that we use to describe things, experiences, values and ideas. Thus our work seeks to construct discursive interfaces between individuals, groups, tasks, actions, designs and clients, stakeholders, (even between verbs and nouns). How many colours are there in a rainbow? Even though science tells us that it contains countless wavelengths of light, most people answer with a small number (usually 7) they learned at school. But how does this answer affect our perceptions? Our reality is lived out in metaphors, adjectives, images and categories. These, in turn, shape our beliefs, actions and assumptions. If one language has more words for flavours, and for colours, than another, it seems likely that the speaker of this language will have a bigger horizon of experience.
Our exploration of synergy is difficult to describe using everyday language. It is also difficult to manage on the practical level. This is because, although synergies are ubiquitous, we tend to take them for granted. Also, many remain unnamed, because they operate between familiar categories of grammar, or nomenclature. They move the traditional design agenda away from concrete nouns (e.g. 'products', 'stuff', 'services', and 'images') and blur distinctions between agents (e.g. 'co-designer' and 'end-user'). They also challenge received assumptions about the primary purposes of design (e.g. from the production of 'stuff' to the 'sharing of new insights and meanings'). Much of this beneficial confusion stems from the importance of ensuring a helpful interplay between the co-designer's intellectual understanding (i.e. that which can be communicated in text, or other logical notation) and her somatic understanding (i.e. the emotional, experiential, embodied aspects of knowledge that cannot be written or said). Our aim is to uncover useful knowledge that appears to be hidden, perhaps because it is somatic and resists description, and/or because it defies the assumptions and/or procedures with which we are already comfortable, or adept.
Where English tends to define collective actions by focusing on individual players as influential agents of a given idea, or trend, some non-western languages are able to describe these processes by invoking concepts, such as the African word Ubuntu. For example, Nunchi , or group feeling may serve to rouse collective sympathy for an individual who, from a less generous perspective, may be underperforming within the team. Nunchi contains conventional remedies for improving this situation within the workplace. This includes sharing treats and snacks after working hard, getting everyone’s signature on a get-well-soon card, or bringing latecomers a special breakfast or lunch snack, in case they didn’t have time to eat. We also coined several neologisms, such as metapurpose, which describes the way that a group or team might find a clear raison d'etre, or 'purpose', only after working for some time without an explicit agenda. In a sense, what may become seen, tacitly, as the 'pretext' is subsequently agreed post hoc. While the term sympoiesis is an alternative to ‘co-authorship’, or ‘co-design’, it also challenges the assumption that the purpose of teamwork is only goal-oriented by including the merging of individual beliefs and identities as an outcome of collaboration. The Korean word ‘nunchi’ (눈치) might be translated as 'group sympathy'. It therefore relates to ‘bunwigi’ (분위기), which implies (a collective sensitivity to) the atmosphere or ambience of a situation. Another important Korean word is ‘Jeong’, (정) which is famously elusive to westerners, but important to this paper, as it refers to a complex emotional affinity for people or things. Jeong may be emotionally ambivalent, or even polarised (it has several forms), but it is more lasting than the commonly used word 'love'. In relationship terms it may resemble the bonds of attachment within a very long-standing marriage partnership. Whereas western constructs often seek to identify things objectively (i.e. from an impartial outsider's perspective), 'Jeong' seems to be described as though it gains its meaning from within the field of feelings. Similarly, the Japanese word ‘ma’ is useful, in that it reflects a combined sense of place and time, when describing the decisive moment of action.
We envisage the future practice of designers as operating in participant groups that contain key change-makers – economists, engineers, other designers etc. Some of our research has suggested that four participants, or agents, might be an optimum number for creating a set of innovations that are interconnected. This is because, while expanding the team beyond four brings cognitive difficulties for the metadesigners, reducing it to three participants would halve the number interrelations (see our tetrahedral logic tool). We have found that teams of four, or in some cases, five participants can be very effective. (see tool 1 (tetrahedral logic).
Figure 3 (below) represents a group of 4 agents (a,b,c,d) acting as ‘carriers’ of four assets (A,B,C,D) e.g. ideas/principles/knowledge sets/skills, where each paired asset has the potential of generating a synergetic outcome (S1 to S6).
A number of factors will impact upon the six paired relationships that exist within the team. We have elected to focus upon four such factors that can be attributed to both the agents (‘idea-carriers) and the assets (‘ideas’ etc):
- Commensurability - influences probability of synergy emerging
Measure of authority, value or match (0 - no match, 1 – equal match)
- Miscibility – influences robustness of any emergent synergy
Potential to mix or integrate (0 – fixed separation, 1 – fully integrated)
- ‘Parental’ independence – influences uniqueness of potential synergy
How much is determined by values within the hierarchical superset of which it is part? (0 – outcome fully dependent upon contributing parent(s), 1 – outcome fully independent)
- Situatedness – influences replicability,
Dependency upon specific context or situation (0 – independent of situation, 1 – strongly situated)
This provides for an interesting set of possibilities, but before scrutinising the possible relationships more closely it is useful to examine the measures associated with the above factors. All declare a benchmark for either the absence or complete fulfillment of the attribute concerned. This is because the extremes of range are more readily determined and are opposites of each other as would be expected. However, the qualities suggest there would be intervening gradations though these would be hard pushed to align to an agreed scale. This might be viewed then as a ‘fuzzy’ value set (Zadeh, L., 1974) whereby the range exists but defies certainty of measure. This is complex and can be simplified (defuzzified in Zadeh terms) by pivoting values about the mid-point and suggest a tendency toward an end value qualified by a loose probability or perceptive term (e.g. slightly 1, near zero etc). The mid-point itself is a paradox as in fuzzy terms it tends to neither and both (Kosko, B., 1994).
This analysis can easily be extended to produce profiles of the paired working relationships that build as a visual. Consider the attributes of commensurability and miscibility for a pair of agents (a:b) in this process. Together this will provide an indicator of how well are they matched and their ability to collaborate effectively.
As stated earlier, both of these attributes might be considered as bivalent whereas in reality they will demonstrate multivalent qualities giving indicators that are likely to lie in the fuzzy space where ‘fixing’ is subjective to the perception of each agent, though they may collaborate and agree on where in the fuzzy space best describes their partnership (see Fig. 5, below).
The profile of the pairing with respect to the qualities considered exists anywhere within the square and can be gauged or felt to exist in one region more than another. This reflects a more realistic interpretation of the partnership. We can begin to build upon this with further attributes (parental dependence, situatedness). We can also consider the profiles of the same pair at different stages of their partnership as well as comparing with other partnerships at similar stages. Mapping and profiling in this form aids the understanding of how we can plan for synergies more effectively. Discreet data is hard to ascertain and even when achieved is equally difficult to reliably interpret.
Analysis of the agents combining the assets they carry can use the exact same process. Using the analysis notation, both asset (idea) and agent (idea carrier) can be shown by:
Interpreted as agent ‘a’ carrying asset ‘A’ working with agent ‘b’ carrying asset ‘B’ which they attempt to combine to generate a synergy, S1. They, with the help of observers, might then create a profile as in Fig. 6 (below).
So we are observing the analysis of a meeting between a and b where each have disclosed their perceptions of the engagement and charted it, collaboratively, as shown. (They could have charted this independently and provided stronger subjective data though with the additional layer of complexity of interpreting the similarities and differences experienced). The profile of the meeting shows that a:b may be friendly and equally matched with a working style that bears little resemblance to their own usual practice. Furthermore, they are both weakly situated i.e. are flexible regarding the context they work within. They are also very effective adapters. The ideas they bring and attempt to combine, A:B, are certainly commensurate though are not so easily integrated. In addition, they are able to produce outcomes significantly different to what they would have achieved independently yet these are most likely to remain within the context they were developed in.
This illustrates the beginnings of a common articulation of collaborative working aimed at creating synergies by combining ideas, or other assets, that are latent to the community. What Arthur Koestler called ‘holarchy’ refers to a mode of organization, or system, in which the actions (and, by implication, beliefs) of the participants are regulated, or determined, by the whole. This implies that will always be a degree of instability, because new information must be shared and processed by virtually everyone. Where, in hierarchies, leaders often strive to appear very clear and decisive, holarchies cannot afford this rhetorical style. By contrast, they are always in transition, albeit moving towards a clear summative position. This suggests that holarchic information can never be expected to be complete. Wicked problems, or what mathematicians may refer to as 'undecidable problems' are common in design (see Gödel's incompleteness theorem).
Designers are accustomed to receiving, and managing, ambiguous or incomplete instructions as a 'brief', or within discussions leading to a brief. This phase might usefully be called the management of metapurpose that begins to determine the subsequent agenda of the project.
If a certainty is ever reached and agreed by both parties, the purpose of their meeting (or, even, their relationship) would be halted. Jacques Derrida coined the term 'différance' (a combination of respectful 'deference' to the Other and a 'deferral' of meaning in time). Presumably, this gratifies his post-Marxist concern for a gradual gathering of meaning that can emancipate almost everyone. By sustaining (deferring) meaning, the collective dream (or metapurpose) may be shared and sustained for a little longer. It signifies, or celebrates the listener's right to interpretation. Derrida once said that his task was not to explain, or to give an answer to the riddle, but to make it clearer.
We have found that encouraging team members to clarify, then to substitute their terminology for alternatives that use different metaphors is useful. When working with non-designers we have encountered some difficulty when discussing hypothetical scenarios. One way to deal with this problem is by using the propositional form invented by Descartes - 'let something equal X'. We also appreciated a workshop collaboration tool co-devised by John Chris Jones and students of the Higher Institute of Integrated Product Development, University College, Antwerp) a practical process for working with an affirmative group to improve a design (Jones, 2003). Each person presents a preliminary design that is to be discarded and replaced by a better one based on the affirmative comments of the others. RULE 3 seems especially useful. "Each responds only positively, beginning with the ritual phrase: 'If I were you I would...' (which must be said each time!). If negative criticisms occur to one they must be rephrased as affirmations e.g. instead of 'I don't like that colour' you might say 'If I were you I would choose a colour that improves visibility'. Better still, the respondent might suggest an alternative colour and show it in context, so that the discussion moves beyond theory (or even hypothesis) and into practical demonstration and proof. RULE 4 is also useful" - "The person presenting his or her design does not reply to the affirmations but writes every word down in full. This list of affirmations is the valuable result.".
- The underestimation of the role of language with (design) practice. (e.g. steering the metaphors, collective story-telling tools)
- The need for leaderless, flat-structured teams for tackling complex, trans-disciplinary and interdisciplinary design projects. (e.g. moving from individual to collective practice, consensual values tool, team casting).
- reconciling team initiatives with the external situation
- Achieving more outcomes from design practice (e.g. win-win-win-win, and POUT - not SWOT analysis)
- harnessing unexpected moments of synergy
- Clocks with Awareness