DRAFT VERSION IN PROGRESS
THE METADESIGN MANIFESTO
The era of the Anthropocene is upon us and time is short. Unless we take restorative action, a trickle of extinctions will soon become an avalanche and climate breakdown will become irreparable. We assert that, in order to make the world a safer place, we need a new economic and political infrastructure that makes sense to the monkey brain in each of us. But who will design this, given that designers are not trained to change paradigms? This is not to say that design as we know it is innately stupid, or evil. But it is a junior profession, so many designers still have a fearlessness borne of innocence (i.e. ignorance). This is both good and bad. When design was an adolescent, it fell in with the wrong crowd. Then it found itself groomed and trafficked by asset-strippers of the industrial revolution, who turned its noble crafts folk into trendy conjurors, cheerleaders and mercenaries. Next time we looked, design as we know it had become the 'go-to' pimp of Capitalism. Can we re-design design itself? At least this would be easier than trying to re-habilitate Homo sapiens.
Therapists know what to do when an individual self-harms. But what should we do when a whole species cannot stop self-harming? The symptoms began to show when humans acquired the insatiable habit of scaling everything up. This was prompted by the discovery of agriculture, weaponry and quantification, some ten thousand years ago. Primitive huts grew into villages then expanded into cities and tax systems, which became a template for vast empires. This forced us to switch from governance based on local alertness and imagination to a world of written laws, algorithms and automated monetary systems. Although upscaling eventually made life safer and more predictable, it forced us to swap local willingness and responsibility for a culture of managerial accountability. What we failed to foresee is that these methods would allow a tiny number of hollowed-out men to ransom the world.
We believe that design can save us. The problem is that designers are still trained to serve the very economic system that is killing us all. Until now, we have been hired for our specialist skills, rather than for our capacity to imagine better business models, or to re-shape the economic order. If he, or she is lucky enough, a designer might be invited to design a plastic bottle that takes longer to reach the food chain, or a car that kills fewer people. This kind of design is part of the problem, not the solution. We need to revise all the assumptions and affordances that will lead to better habits and lifestyles. It is too late for 'sustainability'. The problem is not a lack of resources', but a global absence of vision and fun. We must make design more joined-up, comprehensive, accessible, interoperable and wise. It may still be recognisable as 'design', although a new nickname (e.g. metadesign) might be necessary. This is not a question we are qualified to answer now. Nor is it very important.
How can we prepare for a future we cannot yet see? Perhaps we can learn from the humble caterpillar, which learns to manage its own transformative journey to become a butterfly. Metadesign must certainly learn to re-design itself, so that it can transition from a creature of the predictive future, to a self-reflexive organism of the present moment, and back again. The first step will be to bundle up all the bits of design as we know it and take them to a clinic. But this is no re-branding mission, or celebrity makeover. After rehab, design must be sleeker, handier and more adaptable. It must be friendly and accessable to all, so that it acts as interpreter between bridge top-down and bottom-up initiatives. We envisage it as an Open Source, Creative Commons, Sharealike superset of any, if not all, other manifestations of design.
Orchestrating radical change is hard, even for the smartest design thinkers. Indeed, our monkey brains are accustomed to thinking in terms of discrete products, gadgets, money tokens and services. This mindset is now past its sell-by date. We will remind people that the world exists as a set of relations whose number vastly exceeds the number of 'things' that afford them. This also means that relations have much more value than their constituent ingredients. By valuing differences between existing assets and resources we will re-map value itself. This means that metadadesigners must learn how to re-shape perceptions in order to notice auspicious affordances and relations that may be nameless and hidden. This would make metadesign more enterprising and relational and, therefore, operable in unforeseeable guises and situations.
The (re-)combinatorial nature of Metadesign will reveal the fact that the world is infinitely more than a dwindling set of finite resources. The old language of 'growth', 'profits' and 'jobs' will give way to a vision of a boundless and emerging diversity-of-diversities. However, this calls for new types of skills, sensibilities and modes of reasoning. By making the impossible more thinkable we will make the unthinkable more possible. By attuning ourselves to that which is intangible we will gradually make the ineffable more perceptible. By re-languaging that which has become newly perceptible we will make the unforeseen possible more attainable. We will orchestrate an emerging synergy-of-synergies that acts restoratively and regeneratively to mitigate against species losses and to repair the planet's climate.This will be a co-creative venture. PLEASE JOIN WITH US IN SAVING THE WORLD.