Design in Transition, Transition Design.

*En català més abaix.

Update: this post was written before a formal conversation started with folks at CMU and their comprehensive work on a Transition Design Overview was shared. 

This post is a brief contribution to an ongoing conversation to characterise an emerging design field, Transition Design (1). To my awareness the conversation is hosted by folks at Carnegie Mellon University Terry Irwin and Cameron Tonkinwise. It is also a post framed in a local conversation going on in Barcelona about the topic, where I have been invited to participate by Eina School of Design and Art of Barcelona. Finally, it is also my first attempt as a design professional to make sense of it, so I hope this ideas will keep evolving further as time goes by, hopefully with your contributions.

Why now, what for?

Transition Design is emerging as the least reaction of design to the collective consciousness of the planetary unsustainably consequences of dominant lifestyles. These consequences are grouped simplistically around two dimensions: the over-depletion of resources and the social inequalities needed to maintain it (2). Transition Design aims “to cultivate lifestyles and forms of everyday life” beyond the dominant ones (1).

What does Transition Design designs?

To characterise Transition Design in relation to other design fields, one can place it in what is known as the orders of design:

  • Communication (graphic design, editorial, etc),
  • Product (product design, industrial design, etc),
  • Environments (Interior design, architecture, etc),
  • Personal Interactions (UX-UI, service design, etc)
  • System Interactions (policy design, system design, industrial ecology, etc)

This orders and the categorisation of design fields is proposed after (3). In my mind is by no means strict, lines are really blur and some fields could be in two orders. What seems useful thought is to relate design objects to the orders.

Roughly all design sensible to the sustainability challenge outlined above and operating in the three first orders is known as ecodesign or design for sustainability (4). Design that is sensible to the sustainability challenge operating on the 4th order is known as Design for Social Innovation (5). So far I see Transition Design as the design sensible to the sustainability challenge operating in the 5th order, system interactions. 

Despite the following characterisation presented from now on for Transition Design for the design operating in 5th order, I see some characteristics also speaking about the 4th order, and of relevance for other orders.

By naturally emerging at the system level or order, Transition Design is also bringing a meta-order to design in or to be mindful of design’s role in shaping too. Timeless work of systems theorist Donella Meadows proposed a list of leverage points to intervene in a system in order to change it (6). In it was stated that the most powerful leverage point to drive change is to intervene in the systems’ paradigm. That’s why Irwin proposed a new design paradigm (7), so designers intervene in the system at their corresponding order with a shared paradigm.

Emerging design paradigm

Emerging design paradigm by Terry Irwin

How does it understand its object of design?

The call (sustainability challenge), goal (alternative lifestyles) and design object (systems of stakeholders) all have something in common: they are even hard to understand, not to say design or have an affect upon. The high degree of relationships among factors affecting the context of design and the non-linearity of those relationships (where elsewhere useful ‘cause-effect’ mental frame is not effective), is why Transition Design understand its context of design as the one characterised by the Wicked Problems (8).

Thus, discards the ‘problem-solution’ mental frame, and works instead with ‘conditions of existing system – desired conditions of the system’ (9).

What is it’s role?

Looking the historical trajectory of design’s role, Findelli’s outlined (9):

design's dimensions and roles

Findelli’s historical revision of design’s dimensions and purpose

I see Tonkinwise comments (10) complementing this by saying that in early times design’s role was of an aesthetic resource (giving form to matter) and later of design-in-service (solving problems or re-framing problems lately).

current design dimensions and purpose

Findelli’s proposal of design’s current dimensions and purpose

Also see a convergence in what Findelli and Tonkinwise proposed and my personal view of design role (11). This is, a discipline that integrates traditional dimensions of Science (to know user needs) Art (to create and shape) and Technology (to make), its role becoming that of the creative change agent at the purpose of the project (the transition) that integrates those dimensions, thus shaping and sustaining change (10).

I would define two types of examples of such creative change agents, the ones living the system before an after the intervention and those who join during the change crisis as experts of such process. Of the first type, Transition Network is an international reference, Cooperativa Integral Catalana is another local example. Of the second type, Reos Partners or Forum for the Future are international players, Símbiosy is an emerging local example.

How does it work?

The design process of Transition Design, keeping in mind the ‘existing system – desired conditions of the system’ approach, is an involved design process, where design happens in the field, in the context to be designed ( 5 , 9 ). That appears to me taking on the scientific research trend on contextual laboratories, that living labs are also an expression of (17). Specifically Reos Partners names it Social Lab.


Social Lab

Reos Partners’ Social Lab

systemic innovation

Forum for the Future’s systemic innovation

Another emergent characteristic is the experimental nature of it, a trial and error approach derived in my understanding from the roots of contextual laboratory approach of social sciences and the somehow perceived failure of planning approaches traditionally used in driving change among systems of stakeholders. This lack of planning (or new version of it?) creates a tension in traditional design, as even semantically design is sometimes understood as some sort of fore-sight (19). To me, the importance or remained relevance of traditional design qualities is to use fore-sight at the vision level and adapt the detailed fore-sight tendency of design to shorter trial and error cycles.

Regarding tools, as 3D models help designers in Product’s order of design, helping Transition Design are found ones such as the phenomenological method of Goethe easing the understanding the system of stakeholder’s nature (20) (see my views of it at the end of this post). Other tools are the Living Systems Principles (21) or the aforementioned Leverage Points (6).

Who Transition Designs?

Among the many people participating on the creative change process to alternative lifestyles, there can be process facilitators, experts on a given field e.g. ethnography, ecology, business analysts, conflict resolutions, or experts on the given topic of relevance e.g. fishing, or coders, designers of the first 4th orders, makers, representatives of the organisations involved, individual people, representatives of an species, etc.

Given the complex nature of who takes part in it, it seems pertinent to characterise Transition Design less in a person but as a collective design agency with roughly the characteristics described above of purpose, goal, design object, context, role, process and tools.

Battery of still open questions:

How does this view of Transition Design as system design for the transition relates with the work in Product Service System Design for Sustainability such as the LeNS Project?

Is there is a difference, what is it? Transition Design aiming for a more radical approach?

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*Catalan Translation

Proposit. A que respon? – Reptes de la sostenibilitat

El Transition Design (TD) (1) o Disseny per la Transició es una expresió més del disseny a la presa de consciencia col·lectiva de les consequencies insostenibles a nivell planetari de l’estil de vida dominant. Aquestes s’agrupen simplisticament en dos dimensions; la sobre-explotació de recursos i les inequalitats socials necessaries per mantenir-la (2).

Context. Amb quines problemàtiques treballa i com les enten? – Wicked Problems

Per tant, el Disseny per la Transició considera com a part de la problematica o situació inicial on dissenyar els factors socials i ambientals presents a escala local i la seva relació amb els seus homonims globals. L’alt grau d’interrelacions entre aquests factors i la no linealitat de les mateixes (on el marc mental ‘causa-efecte’ no es efectiu), fa que entengui el seu context on dissenyar com el caracteritzat pel Wicked Problems (3).

Aixi doncs, abandona el marc mental ‘problema – solució’, treballant en canvi amb ‘condicions del sistema A existent – condicions del sistema B desitjat’ (4).

Objecte. Quin es el seu objecte de disseny? – Disseny de sistemes per a la transició

Per poder situar el Disseny per la Transició, podem observem els ordres on el disseny actua, i hi trobem:

  • Communicació (disseny grafic, editorial, etc),
  • Producte (disseny de producte, industrial, etc),
  • Ambient (disseny d’interiors, arquitectura, etc),
  • Interaccions personals (UX-UI, disseny de serveis) i
  • Sistemes d’actors (disseny de politiques, sectors, etc).
  • (després de 5).

El disseny sensible al repte de la sostenibilitat en els tres primers ordres de disseny es coneix com a ecodisseny o disseny per la sostenibilitat (6). El disseny sensible al repte de la sostenibilitat en el 4rt ordre del disseny es coneix com a disseny per la innovació social (7). El Disseny per la Transició es el disseny sensible al repte de la sostenbilitat operant en el 5é ordre.

Tot i que la majoria de la caracterització proposada aquí per al Disseny per a la Transició es presenta en el 5é ordre, sistemes d’actors, molts dels aspectes presentats són relevants en projectes del 4rt ordre, interaccions personals.

Tot i no entendre-ho estrictament com un ordre del disseny, complementant i superant (d’acord amb teòries de canvi en sistemes complexos (8)) l’impacte per a la transició que genera treballar en l’ordre de sistema d’actors, el Disseny per la Transició proposa a més un canvi de valors i patrons de pensament, un nou paradigma del disseny.

*Imatge sobre el paradigma (9)

Exemples emergents, no establerts i fora de l’escop traditional dels dissenyadors d’aquest enfoc sistemic del canvi son els Transition Towns (10) o la Cooperativa Integral Catalana (11).

Rol i Objectiu en societat. Quin és el seu rol? – Agent per la transició

Trajectoria dels rols (4) :

*Imatge sobre recurregut històric i dimensions i propòsit

Disseny com a recurs estètic (donar forma material) 

Disseny al servei de (solucionador de problemes) (re-enmarcador de problemes)

Rol del Disseny per la transició:

*Imatge sobre dimensions i propòsit actual

Integra les tres arees tradicionals del disseny, coneixer (ciencia), crear i donar forma (art) i fer (tècnologia), i el seu rol esdeve el de ser agent de canvi per al propòsit del projecte (transició), dónar forma i mantenir el canvi (12).

Així doncs, l’objectiu de ser agent de canvi creatiu (13) (integrant art, ciencia i tecnologia) no és generar un recurs estètic o solucionar un problema conegut o per definir, sino les consequencies d’aquest canvi en l’experiencia de les persones i en l’aspecte economic, social i ambiental dels seus disseny (14)

Es per això que el Disseny per la Transició es defineix com el cultiu d’estils de vida sostenibles.

Procés i eines. Com ho fa? – Amb lavoratoris vius

*Imatge ‘systemic innovation’ de Forum For the Future (15).

*Imatge process del ‘Social Lab’ de Reos Partners (16).

El proces de disseny del Transition Design, tenint en compte com enten la problematica (condicions del sistema A – condicions del sistema B) es base en l’involved design, (cosa que el action research també ja fa) que es basicament investigar/experimentar en el context real o laboratori viu, on el dissenyador hi pren part, com un més (7). És a dir, el disseny ocorre experimentant inmers en el context que es vol canviar.

Aquesta logica d’evolució o canvi es per exemple també extesa en el Lean UX, on el mon start up de ha abraçat el ‘proactionary approach’ que resa que el riscs d’inacció sobrepassen els de l’acció, i on el mantra es ‘build and measure’. En aquest cas, la diferencia entre iterar-experimentar, pivotar com es diu en l’argot techy, un producte fins a aconseguir un model de negoci viable i l’exprimentació en un social lab guiat per visions o situacions desitjables que el disseny aporta es la diferencia d’objectius, negoci/transició (17).

En quant a eines, aixi com els dibuixos tridimensionals ajuden a capir l’objecte en el 2ón ordre, del Producte, el metode fenomenologic de Goethe ajuda a entendre el Sistema d’actors (18). El process es basa en mapejar les parts del sistema i les relacions, despres visualitzar les parts amb la prespectiva del temps, intuir l’estructura estàtica del conjunt com un arquetip, per finalment entendre quines son les dinamiques formatives del conjunt. Altres eines son els principis dels sistemes vius (19), o els abans mencionats Leaverage Points de Donella Meadows (8).

Qui dissenya per la transició ? – Process compartit de canvi creatiu

Dins dels molts rols participant del process de canvi cap a l’estat desitjat del sistema, hi poden haver facilitadors de procesos, experts en e.g. etnografia, sociologia, resolució de conflictes, sobre el tema del sector a treballar (pesca mediterrànea), visualitzadors de procesos, programadors, persones o representants d’organitzacions originariament en la situacio, etc.

Per tant, el transition design es podria caracteritzar com un process participatiu de canvi creatiu amb les característiques abans descrites de propòsit, context, objecte, rol, objectiu, procés i eines.

Impacte a la resta d’ordres, i al disseny en general.

Totes les intervencions en altres ordres del disseny que no tenen per objectiu modificar les estructures i relacions dels actors del sistema del qual son part, poden considerar com a mínim:

  • treballar la materialitat del seu objecte tenint en compte les consequencies que comporten tant en l’estil de vida de les persones que interactuen amb el seu disseny,
  • com en la reververació de les consequencies al sistema d’actors, i últimament en els reptes globals.
  • a més, considerar treballar sota un mateix nou paradigma del disseny.
  • i poden, per exemple, trobar útil treballar considerant els seus objectes de disseny com en continu canvi.

Referencies

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transition_design

http://www.ipcc.ch/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wicked_problem

https://www.academia.edu/672166/Rethinking_design_education_for_the_21st_century_Theoretical_methodological_and_ethical_discussion

https://medium.com/@camerontw/designs-dis-orders-transition-design-cd53c3ad7d35

http://www.unep.org/resourceefficiency/Business/SustainableProducts/DesignforSustainability/tabid/78845/Default.aspx

http://sigeneration.ca/documents/Makingthingshappen.pdf

http://www.donellameadows.org/archives/leverage-points-places-to-intervene-in-a-system/

https://www.academia.edu/4655794/Wicked_Problems_and_the_Relationship_Triad_from_Grow_Small_Think_Beautiful_Ideas_for_a_Sustainable_World_from_Schumacher_College_Stephan_Harding_ed._2011

https://www.transitionnetwork.org/

http://cooperativa.cat/

https://www.academia.edu/10468021/Design_Terminable_and_Interminable_The_Problem_of_Motivating_Transition_Designers

https://twitter.com/adriagm/status/436085148371517440

http://www.core77.com/posts/19555/allan-chochinov-on-upcoming-mfa-products-of-design-program-you-are-in-the-consequence-business-19555

http://www.forumforthefuture.org/blog/%E2%80%98how-%E2%80%99-system-innovation

http://social-labs.org/

https://www.academia.edu/10624346/Prototyping_Risks_while_Design_is_Disappearing

https://www.academia.edu/6095057/Goethean_Process_A_Comparison_of_Different_Approaches_by_Leading_Practitioners

https://www.academia.edu/6076107/Living_Systems_Theory_Relevance_to_Design

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