Transformation Design

Page 1

Wolfgang Jonas  Sarah Zerwas  Kristof von Anshelm (Eds.)

Board of International Research in Design, BIRD

Advisory Board: Gui Bonsiepe Nigel Cross Alain Findeli Kun-Pyo Lee John Maeda Shutaro Mukai Pieter Jan Stappers Susann Vihma

The label “transformation design” was presented in the UK in 2006. It aimed at new means to make behaviour change and social change happen and to generate new forms of innovation. The human-centred approach was to be extended towards a society-centred one. The transformation concept goes back to anthropologist and sociologist Karl Paul Polanyi, who described the emergence of the almost unquestioned and meanwhile universal Western market logic in his 1944 book “The Great Transformation”. He called the transformation of ­societies with markets into market societies the “dis-embedding of the markets”. Leading think tanks refer to Polanyi and demand for a new social contract and the “re-em­ bedding” of the markets into society. Which are design’s potentials, instruments and contributions in this new “Great Transformation”? Questions, answers, theories, methods, ideas and projects are put forward. Their variety suggests that transformation design will probably not become a new category, but will remain a fuzzy discourse. We call it a placement, an ambitious value-based attitude towards designing. The book wants to encourage the international debate in favour of a more responsible design.

ISBN 978-3-0356-0636-2

Transformation Design

Can design contribute to the solution of big problems such as climate change, resource scarcity, poverty, etc.?

Transformation Design

Wolfgang Jonas  Sarah Zerwas  Kristof von Anshelm (Eds.)

Members: Michael Erlhoff Wolfgang Jonas Gesche Joost Claudia Mareis Ralf Michel

Board of International Research in Design, BIRD

Perspectives on a New Design Attitude



Introduction 009 Wolfgang Jonas / Sarah Zerwas / Kristof von Anshelm

Transformation Design Starts with P ­ eople Dreaming: Designers and ­T heatre Makers Design Utopias for Major T ­ ransformation. An Essay


Kristof von Anshelm

Transformation Design: A Piecemeal ­S ituational Change


Nicolas Beucker

Deep Involvement: On Transformation Processes Related to the RhyCycling Project


Flavia Caviezel

Transformation Design: Creating Security and Well-Being


Caroline L. Davey and Andrew B. Wootton

Owls to Athens, or: The Discrete Charm of Transformation Design. An Essay


Michael Erlhoff

Could Design Help to Promote and Build ­ Empathic Processes in Prison? Understanding the Role of Empathy and Design in Catalysing Social Change and Transformation


Lorraine Gamman and Adam Thorpe

Approaching Our Dog: Transformation Design – An Attempt


Franziska Holzner

Social Transformation Design as a Form of R ­ esearch Through Design (RTD): Some Historical, Theoretical, and ­M ethodological ­R emarks Wolfgang Jonas



Design and Social Change: The Changing Environment of a Discipline in Flux


Gesche Joost and Andreas Unteidig

Human Systems Design: A New Direction for Practice


Victor Margolin

Designing for Sustainable Development: Industrial Ecology, Sustainable Development, and Social Innovation


Gavin Melles

Mobility Peak: Scenes from a ­D eceleration


Stephan Rammler

Transformation Design: A Social-­E cological Perspective


Bernd Sommer and Harald Welzer

Designing ‘Matters of Concern’ (Latour): A Future Design Challenge?


Peter Friedrich Stephan

Rapid Prototyping Politics: Design and the De-Material Turn


Matthew Ward

Collective Metamorphosis: A Combinatorial Approach to ­ Transformation Design


John Wood

Transformation Design as ‘Hero’s J ­ ourney’


Sarah Zerwas

Authors 277


Introduction Wolfgang Jonas / Sarah Zerwas / Kristof von Anshelm

Transformation Design? Why transformation design? It is the tenor of the public debate about major global problem areas – such as climate change, resource scarcity, pollution, poverty, ­population growth, and many more – that in the foreseeable future fundamental changes in ‘Western’ lifestyles will be required if catastrophic crises are to be avoided. For example, changes in mobility behaviour, eating habits, living arrangements, construction methods, and energy use, and corresponding adjustments of infrastructures, economies, and so on, are deemed necessary. Ultimately, a radical realignment of our growth-oriented economies and ways of life towards a postgrowth society seems inevitable. We have countless ideas, initiatives, and examples of change projects all over the world. However, reliable and generalisable strategies are not yet clear. This raises the question: what is required to create these? Can ­design contribute? Does transformation design make sense? How to design transformation? There seems to be a consensus that the focus of transformation design is not the artefact, the emotionally charged beautiful shape, the functional optimisation of commodities, or the market orientation in general. Transformation design means turning away from the user-centred design approach focusing on the individual consumer of products or services. It aims at an extension of the human-centred approach towards a society-centred attitude instead, explicitly focusing on the social dimensions and conditions of designing. The main subject of transformation design is open communication processes, which serve for a creative enquiry into new potentialities and can be designed and realised in the form of new organisational structures and cultures, systemic innovations, or collaborative educational forms. The final goal is behaviour change – individually, locally and globally. The term first appeared in the design community about ten years ago. In its RED paper 02, which was published in 2004, the British Design Council’s RED Unit first presented a new design discipline called transformation design (Design Council 2004). RED identified an appropriate means for making social change happen, and for generating new forms of innovation, not in the process of form-giving, but rather by means of the systemic core competencies of design and the design process. It must be mentioned that the initiative had a strong link to the then British government and the social programmes of ‘New Labour’. The term ‘transformation design’ is no longer in use in the UK. The origins of the idea go back much further still. And we have to dig deeper; our approach is more ‘German’ in some respects.


Karl Polanyi’s ‘Great Transformation’ What is the ethical background when we are talking about transformation design? Is it the Western mainstream notion of happiness through consumption, where consumption is predicated on having a reasonably paid job? Is it about expanding the Western model over the rest of the world? Probably not. Anthropologist and ­sociologist Karl Paul Polanyi (1886–1964) described the emergence of this almost unquestioned and meanwhile universal economic logic in his book The Great Transformation (1944). ‘Great Transformation’ means the transformation of land, work, and money and various other previously common goods into commodities. Or the transformation of societies with markets into market societies. Polanyi calls this the ‘dis-embedding of the markets’, which was completed in the West by the turn of the twentieth century. The early-industrialised countries for the most part still ­define the standards and rules of global development. Yet their wealth relies on global­­inequalities going back to colonial times. And it relies on overexploitation of ­resources. Conceived in 1990 by Mathis Wackernagel and William Rees, the ‘Ecological Footprint’ is now in widespread use for monitoring ecological resource use and ­advancing sustainable development (Wackernagel and Rees 1996). By measuring the footprint of a population – an individual, city, business, nation, or all of humanity – we can assess our pressure on the planet, which helps us to manage our ecological assets more wisely and take personal and collective action in support of a world where humanity lives within the earth’s bounds. The average Ecological Footprint per person worldwide is 2.6 global hectares, while the average bio-capacity available per person is 1.8 global hectares. Some countries’ levels of ecological demand per person are much higher than the world average, while others are much lower. Obviously, we have to talk about reduction and alternative paths, Victor Papanek’s (1985) ‘real needs’. But which are the ‘real’ needs? Does this patronising notion make sense, or is it an ideological arrogance, a relic from the 1970s? Are people really fooled by the glittering world of consumerism? Maybe they truly want it, because they believe it makes them happy. At the very least, there are many question marks behind the question of what people really want. ‘Design for the other 90 %’ (Smith 2007) sounds great but is also somehow misleading, because it might suggest that the ‘first 10 %’ are unproblematic, which they are not. So we should talk about differentiated measures for the quality of life, about equilibrium economies, about reductionist modernity, small-scale transitional approaches. Not only, but primarily in the West. And we should talk about the role of design and design theories.


Broader Notions of Design Despite more than forty years of critical approaches, we must state that mainstream design practice today is still acting in the highly problematic role of catalyser/accelerator for socially dis-embedded economic purposes. consumption

production dynamics of the ­economic and financial system

DESIGN the ‘willing executor’?

‘unchained capitalism’

sociology and ­ sychology of ­ p consuming ‘insatiable consumers’

1 The vicious cycle of production and consumption, driven by design (Jonas)

On the other hand, design, as a profession and an academic discipline, has never fully accepted the reality of the first ‘Great Transformation’. In reflective moments, designers question their professional function as ‘willing executors’ in sustaining the dynamics of the market society. The Kyoto Design Declaration 2008 is a pretty but almost embarrassing example: A statement of commitment by the members of Cumulus to sharing the global responsibility for building sustainable, human-centered, creative societies. […] Human-centered design thinking, when rooted in universal and sustainable principles, has the power to fundamentally improve our world. It can deliver economic, ecological, social and cultural benefits to all people, improve our quality of life and create optimism about the future and individual and shared happiness.

Scepticism is appropriate towards this naive universalist humanitarian attitude. Critical voices have already interpreted it as a new Western imperialism (Nussbaum 2009): colonisation by Design Thinking. We agree, but why ‘new’? Regardless of, or despite, these flowery humanitarian appeals, there are thousands of practical initiatives within and mainly outside design that should be appreciated and evaluated. There is the need to become less moralistic and ideological. And maybe more theoretical, keeping ethics implicit in the theories and methodologies that we are using. Theory may provide a certain distance from the immediacy of the current chaotic dynamics of production, consumption, and design, and also a sense of con­so­ lation in the face of the often perceived powerlessness. We have to challenge the ­usefulness of seemingly universal standards and unquestioned assumptions in economy and science. Our hypothesis is that design thinking, meaning more than


• Top-down and bottom-up approaches to transformation design. There seems to be an astonishing consensus that top-down approaches will not be appropriate today. Why not? • Transformation design attitudes in the centre and in the periphery. How to combine sustainable growth in the periphery and intelligent reduction in the centre? • The culture of experimental designerly research practices. Trial and error, evolutionary patterns, cultural and artistic formats of co-creation and design-driven innovation. • The importance of projection and the significance of synthetic practice. Abductive reasoning, micro-utopias, scenarios and visions. Making things tangible and thus vulnerable. • The importance of participatory approaches and education. Speculative design as a pedagogical practice aimed at gaining competence for political participation and empowerment. • Transformation design as avant-garde movement? Is it enough that small agent groups, elites, and dissenters use design as a provocative, discursive medium to throw a spanner in the works? • On the differences and similarities between design and art in change processes. The texts in the following collection refer to many of these questions. Yet we have not attempted a clustering according to these fuzzy issues. This would pretend a system, which does not exist. Instead of categorisation, we refer to the concept of placement. Richard Buchanan explicitly distinguished between a category, which has fixed boundaries, and placements, which denote more open spaces where new forms of practice can be imagined. He used the rhetorical theory of placements to characterise (Buchanan 1992: 9, 10) ‘four broad areas in which design is explored throughout the world by professional designers and by many others who may not regard themselves as designers’. These are symbolic and visual communication; material objects; activities and organised services; and finally complex systems for living, working, playing, and learning, a placement concerned with ‘the role of design in sustaining, developing, and integrating human beings into broader ecological and cultural environments […]’ In the latter category Buchanan included systems engineering, architecture, and urban planning, although he recognised that the category could accommodate new design approaches that were not limited to existing practices. In essence, Buchanan offered a rhetorical approach to ‘the invention of possibilities’ rather than a typological ordering of particular design opportunities. Following Buchanan, we call transformation design a placement, a value-based attitude towards designing:


• Transformation design is holistic without misconceiving itself as a saviour of the world. It considers humans in their social, cultural, and material relations and turns the traditional innovation pyramid upside down; that is, it starts thinking of the social system innovation, then derives organisational concepts and use patterns, and then, finally, may consider necessary product innovations. • Transformation design is transdisciplinary without pretending to know things better. It becomes an integral and moderating platform competence, thinking in worlds, systems, processes, and products, a kind of translation competence between basic disciplines and systemic, socially and environmentally friendly applications. • Transformation design is provocative without reducing itself to an experience-provider or animator. Through narrative and discursive scenarios, visions, and utopias, it promotes a new culture of future communication: design for debate. It thus provides new opportunities for emotional identification, makes futures tangible, and acts as a provider of meaning beyond the classical commodity fetishism. • Transformation design is normative without wanting to impose norms from the outside. It is based on the sustainability caveat. Thereby it does not want to act ideologically or from a particular bias, but asks instead: ‘How do we want to live?’ Transformation design is a field for the deconstruction and redesign of social relations, and thus is to be conceived politically.

The Contributions The texts are arranged in alphabetical order. We did not try to force them into a rigid standard format, because this would totally contradict the idea of transformation design as an experimental endeavour to open up and broaden design theory and practice and research, and make it more flexible, with the aim of increasing its ­relevance. Kristof von Anshelm examines the basic requirements for social transformation processes, their inherent difficulties and sometimes paradoxical conditions, and displays the value of utopia as a starting point for change processes. Examination of different approaches to transformation research leads to the realisation that it is not about a great transformation, but about daring to initiate and perform


­experiments in social coexistence. Transformation design can provide an important contribution to the way these experiments are conducted. The project ‘auf probe’ (on trial) and the scenario technique used therein is presented as a way to arrive at common visions of a different future and to discuss them. Furthermore, the project also makes clear one of the many possible interfaces of design – in this case, theatre as a medium for social discourse on the subject of transformation. In the end, it boils down to inspiring society by means of the instruments of design – not creating new, covetable products, but offering new, desirable, and sustainable lifestyles and social models instead. Nicolas Beucker defines ‘transformation design as a context- and situation-sensitive approach with the aim of facilitating piecemeal change that ensures connectivity for social interaction and further development’. In his view, social transformation design is not a new profession but rather an attitude or mindset for looking at problem situations and their potential transformation. It is about processes rather than final solutions. And it requires patience and modesty. Social transformation design initiates small, reversible steps in real-life situations. At best, they will act as contextual triggers for change. Design, with its optimistic attitude, its trust in intuition and its tacit ability to tackle wicked problems, its capacity for imagining possible futures, and its tools for communication and visual sense-making, is well equipped for these new tasks. On the other hand, Beucker also clearly states that public awareness that design has these competencies and might be a trigger for ­social change is still missing. This is a challenge, especially for design education. Flavia Caviezel reflects on the research and exhibition project RhyCycling. The text elaborates on the close relationship between the concept of transdisciplinarity and the change-oriented approach of transformation design. RhyCycling has been initiated mainly by artists, and includes experts from various disciplines and the public in a communicative process. The text explores the peculiarities of transdisciplinary working conditions, such as ‘deep involvement’, and their epistemolo­gical consequences in the swampy boundary region of art, science, and everyday knowledge. The implicit aim of the project is to build awareness, to raise consciousness, and maybe to initiate behavioural change (‘transforming the viewer’) with ­respect to the complex and fragile socio-political-ecological situation of the river Rhine in the Basel area in Switzerland/Germany/France. The project provides a rich picture of the various facets and challenges of transdisciplinary transformative ­action, mainly from an artistic viewpoint. Caroline Davey and Andrew Wootton are leading proponents of the Design Against Crime initiative that began in the UK at the turn of the millennium. They view the rise in interest in transformation design in Germany as warranting a critical review of its origins and potential, and question whether there are substantive advantages compared with ‘the more traditional but less grandiloquently titled socially responsible design’. In their view, the transformation design agenda was in tune with the UK’s political situation at the time, during New Labour’s ‘Third Way’.


Since the change of government, the UK Design Council’s website no longer appears to use the term. The authors characterise ‘transformation design’ as a useful ‘marketing tool, or brand, to help communicate and promote to public sector organisations the benefits of adopting a design approach’. They suggest that the term, in English-speaking design communities at least, has been incorporated within other contemporary phrases such as ‘design thinking’ and ‘human-centred design’. Davey and Wootton present an interesting piece about design politics and the struggle for definition power. To avoid misunderstanding: the German discourse on transformation design appears to be broader and more idealistic compared with the pragmatic UK approach, and goes back, besides other sources, to Karl Polanyi’s notion of the ‘Great Transformation’. The RED paper cannot be ignored, but it is just one of many roots of transformation design thinking in Germany. Michael Erlhoff calls ‘transformation design’ a tautology – because design is transformation, in thinking, in making, in use – and tries to clarify the various relations between transformation and design. Evolutions and revolutions of forms may change lifestyles and vice versa, products become immaterial services, design becomes a research activity, and so on. All this leads to new self-concepts and to new notions of designability of reality – not really new. To come closer to a genuine ­notion of transformation design, Erlhoff introduces the concept of ‘discrete transformation’ and suggests we conceive of design as ‘intervention[s] into everyday practices and life’, ‘for enlightenment and criticism, and for developing our understanding of societal, and hence important, processes, and for changing habits’. Some examples from students’ projects illustrate this radical notion of design as ­irritating and thus transformative activity. Erlhoff’s text avoids the widespread ­severity and seriousness of the debate, with its sometimes arrogant claim of saving the world. He calls for fuzziness and joyful play as transformative strategies, comparable to concepts such as design for debate or critical design. Lorraine Gamman and Adam Thorpe explore the role of empathy and design activity in catalysing social change and personal transformation in prison. First they review why empathy is not promoted in the prison context, because of the emotional suppression that is implicit in prison culture. The second section reviews ­evidence provided by the UK’s National Alliance for Arts in Criminal Justice that ­explores how and why creative practice already facilitates some experiences of empathy that have had a positive effect on inmate experience and have led to personal revelations and transformations in the form of ‘desistance’ – the process whereby offenders stop reoffending. The final section reflects upon the prison experience itself, and the serious difficulties it creates for many inmates (linked to what has been described as ‘situational precipitators’), and suggests, in this context, that design could make a difference to the sort of transformation that occurs. In particular, ­design tools and processes could improve provision of, and impact upon, inmates’ learning in how to relate to and care for others in prosocial ways.


Franziska Holzner plays with the metaphor of ‘our dog, the guardian of the key to transformation’. Her narrative reasoning, which sometimes nicely echoes old fables, is a sharp polemic against the lazy dog inside us, against passive ‘Western’ consumerism, and for a ‘better life’ for individuals and society and the entire world in a post-growth society. She wonders how to get the dog out of his cosy basket, how to incite his more exploratory and risk-taking traits, and enquires into the material, the system, and the product of transformation design. The material is experiences in a systemic context, conceived as a playing field. Cognition, communication, and cooperation are the design elements, not ‘theoretical dancing’. Transformation design takes place in systems and networks. Holzner calls this ‘the design of ecology’, which is ‘a system structure that makes transformation possible’. Transformation design products are ‘projects that act on a small scale and are in perspective connected with trans-regional, often global themes’. Some of them are briefly sketched. Wolfgang Jonas attempts to relate social transformation design to the emerging research paradigm Research Through Design (RTD). He refers to the work of Horst Rittel and Frederic Vester, and especially to the seemingly incompatible positions of Herbert Simon and C. West Churchman, as essential yet mostly neglected foundations avant la lettre of what we call transformation design today. The challenge is to integrate facts and values in a research and transformation process. Building on John Dewey’s notion of ‘epistemic democracy’ and Gerard De Zeeuw’s concept of ‘Third Phase Science’, Jonas develops a systemic model of RTD, where knowledge and understanding are materialised, i.e., embodied and socially based. In consequence, this allows the definition of RTD as the generic process of social transformation design. The basic methodological problems of control and prediction are faced through methods of interconnected and projective scenario methods. Finally, Jonas dares the far-reaching assertion that social transformation design, methodologically based on RTD, may be the operational model for transdisciplinary science. Gesche Joost and Andreas Unteidig from Design Research Lab at Berlin University of the Arts ask how ‘the social’ affects our understanding of design and reflect on future design transformations. Against the background of changing notions of innovation (broader, more open, interconnected), design is seen more as a means for social and political empowerment than as a tool only to create economic profit. The focus switches from looking at the discipline as a problem solver and the creator of material solutions towards design that values the creation, transformation, and stabilisation of structures in terms of social sustainability. An important topic is the creation of infrastructures that allow for citizens to organise and collaboratively transform their urban living environments. Two community projects and two related tools are presented: (1) Neighbourhood Labs tackles the problem of participation for digital non-natives. The Hybrid Letter Box serves as a bridge between the analogue and digital domains. (2) Community Now? is another neighbourhood exploration project, where the De:Routing app provides a collective online map. It serves


as starting points for experiences, rich discussions, community workshops, or other events. Victor Margolin provides a broad historical overview from the origins of design to systemic approaches in the second half of the twentieth century. He recalls how designers referred to the promising methods of operations research, bringing forth approaches such as Jones’s ‘systematic design methods’. Things were not that easy, and the project of designing social systems is still unfinished. Margolin avoids the ambitious term ‘transformation design’ and uses the more modest concept of ‘human systems design’ instead: ‘a way to ensure that new social and technological interventions are thoughtfully and holistically conceived and effectively introduced in ways that facilitate rational, efficient, and socially just human responses’. He builds on Buchanan’s use of the rhetorical theory of placements and his notion of four broad areas/orders of design, the fourth of which is ‘complex systems for living, working, playing, and learning’. Secondly, he builds on Sir Geoffrey Vickers’ concept of ‘human systems’ and his notion of ‘appreciative systems’, which demand sufficient correspondence with reality to guide action, sufficient sharing with others to mediate communication, and sufficient acceptability to make life bearable. Finally, problems of distinguishing human systems design from other fields and educational requirements are discussed. Gavin Melles focuses on postgraduate design education and distinguishes Mainstream Sustainable Design (MSD) of common-sense market environmentalism and ecological modernisation from systemic approaches to innovation and change for sustainable livelihoods in Bottom of the Pyramid (BoP) contexts. Sustainable development and not sustainability should be the framework of choice for design’s theoretical and practical contribution. It has to be based upon the Triple Bottom Line (TBL) concept, which suggests that a balance of environmental, social, and economic goals must be achieved for sustainable development. Melles argues that innovation that is restricted to promoting the modernist neo-liberal agenda of growth through increased consumption and production is an approach the rich North should re-examine as it is overtaken by the rising South. The question design schools should be asking is why they are so behind in these developments compared with management or engineering schools, especially in developing countries such as India. Melles concludes that design must radically change its agenda if it wishes to be a serious game changer. Stephan Rammler presents a narrative that remembers our mobility future from the perspective of the year 2050. The story is written from a decidedly normative attitude and starts from the assumption that it was around 2011 that the ‘Great Transformation’ began in Germany. Rammler does not frighten us with dystopic, apocalyptic images; he does not argue in a (pseudo)-scientific manner about pos­ sible future states; but he offers positive, desirable futures instead, which may encourage people not to let things just happen but to actively intervene and work for a better future. The fact that the beginning of Rammler’s story, which tells us about


peak oil in 2011 and rising fuel prices, turns out to be wrong at the beginning of 2015 does not render his approach worthless. On the contrary: it urges us to question our sometimes absurd lifestyles, to play with the contingencies of the chaotic development, to take them as building blocks for creating better visions. Only positive visions will be able to empower people. Bernd Sommer and Harald Welzer show how the destruction of future survival conditions takes place on behalf of a hyper-consumption, which does not increase happiness but rather causes suffering. They understand transformation design as the heuristic of reductive modernism. It searches for exits from the corridor of expansive mainstream culture, which reverses the direction of civilisation and puts democracy, law, and freedom increasingly under stress. The obstacles are immense, for not only are our outer lives, infrastructures, institutions, and civilisational standards characterised by the expansive culture model, but also our mental infrastructures. The strategy cannot be to design master plans for a ‘Great Transformation’, which then have to be implemented. The challenge is rather to trace a mode of socialisation that allows for radically reduced consumption and the maintenance and even further development of our civilisation standards. When the state of civilisation, which has been achieved by means of the capitalist growth economy, is to be preserved, then this economy must be overcome – by design or by disaster. In this sense, conventional design is morally and socially homeless; it does not problematise that it is generally associated with an increase in effort. In contrast, transformation design aims for the least effort, which can also be zero effort. Peter Friedrich Stephan relates the transformation design idea to Bruno Latour’s ‘matters of concern’ and his suggestion that visualising these might be design’s big new future task. Firstly, Stephan’s friendly but firm criticism of Latour’s alleged discovery of design and its potential states that designers have always been familiar with these visualisation tasks. Secondly, he reveals the inconsistencies in Latour’s metaphorical attempts at defining matters of concern. In consequence, Stephan aims to embed Latour’s matters of concern in the ongoing discussion on design for social change, and argues for designing, instead of visualising, matters of concern. He proposes conceiving concerns as attractors that integrate and organise values, needs, and issues. According to Stephan, designers ‘can be defined as libido engineers who take assumptions about the driving forces of concerns as starting points and try to lead these into new directions’. With the erosion of undisputed rituals, designers have to invent new social forms that can cope with concerns. Stephan presents a pleasantly self-confident and critical analytical and non-normative approach, which finally finds some useful concepts in Latour’s approaches and methods from ANT. Matthew Ward considers design education in the post-disciplinary design world. ‘Design Thinking’ as one of these approaches is deficient, because it follows what he calls ‘the de-material turn in design’: ‘As long as we throw enough coffee and Post-it notes at the problem, we will be able to harness the power of design to


solve all business or social needs.’ Ward argues for a ‘new materiality’ instead. Fiction, storytelling, material prototypes, and Critical and Speculative Design are his favourite pedagogical tools for sense making. Educators should aim to give students the confidence to assemble their own unique practice. Four fascinating case studies from Goldsmiths illustrate the interplay between material experimentation and speculative reflection, and reveal the paradigm shifts from designer as problem-solver towards citizen sense-maker, activist, or provocateur. Students are enabled to critique dominant discourses and societal frameworks and to understand their role in the world. They develop processes of engagement, providing constant expertise and feedback to identify, test, and deliver durable solutions, where consequences are neither certain nor dogmatic, but negotiated and contingent. Ward’s conclusion reads as quite radical: ‘Training for the revolution […] If we fail to rethink our approach to design education, we risk condemning our practice to the subservience of market-driven consumption.’ John Wood is a proponent of the ‘metadesign’ approach, which has been developed in order to enable societies to become more attuned to the biosphere. Metadesign is qualitatively different from design because it is too complex to be predictive. Wood argues that inviting designers to work in a more systemic, holistic way would require them to see the world as a joined-up but poorly designed system. Transformation processes tend to make their own rules and boundaries, which means that control is possible only on a collective basis. Blurring the traditional boundaries between designers, clients, governments, and stakeholders makes the idea of transformation design democratically rich. Therefore, perhaps, transformation design would inspire a kind of ‘collective metamorphosis’ and a viable form of John Dewey’s ‘creative democracy’. Abductive reasoning seems to be the mutable logic behind self-transformation. Wood finally introduces the concept of ‘keystone synergies’: ‘By finding and highlighting synergies that are of critical benefit, we will encourage others to continue the process by revealing new synergies. Eventually, designers will be able to create keystone synergies that are likely to seed the creation of subsequent synergies.’ Sarah Zerwas explores creative learning and change processes, and reflects on the potential contributions of designerly methods and attitudes in this endeavour. One starting point is Dunne and Raby’s distinction between ‘design for production’ and ‘design for debate’. The other is the hypothesis that generic patterns can be ­detected in mythical narratives, such as the hero’s journey, and that using these ­anthropological structures as design guidelines might offer new perspectives. The triadic pattern of (1) leaving the familiar environment, the call to adventure (separation), (2) the process of change through exposure to new contexts, trials, and ­crises (initiation), and (3) coming back to the old environment in order to improve it (return) reveals striking similarities to the structure of creative processes and ­design processes as well as applications in therapy, coaching, team development, strategy building, and so on. These insights are used to develop a moderation model


­examples of transformation design and more examples from successful social businesses, we might see programmes similar to Stanford’s We need study programmes that have their origin in one department but are linked to and served by students from many disciplines. The new thing would be to introduce transformation design as a context- and situation-sensitive approach with the aim of facilitating piecemeal change that ensures connectivity for social interaction and further development. Those study programmes likely need their professional designerly oath to bind staff and students to a design that improves life.

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Deep Involvement: On Transformation Processes Related to the RhyCycling Project Flavia Caviezel

The End as Starting Point The best way to observe fish is to become a fish.1

This quote by oceanographer Jacques-Yves Cousteau refers to the diving technology he co-developed in the 1940s, which was the first technology to allow both the observation of fish and their documentation with a film camera. The quote also alludes to the observer putting him- or herself in the position of the observed. This involvement, which is also supported by physically adjusting to the situation by means of technology, changes both the perspective and the form of observation. The divers become ‘fishlike’ in order to be able to approach fish and shoot suitable material. After the recorded material has been edited, the audience views the films and is immersed in a hitherto unknown and inaccessible underwater world. The (cinematically created) proximity, as well as the implementation and reception of the filmed material, can have transformative qualities. Cousteau’s cinematic underwater world must have had an overwhelming effect at the time. Referring to the Oscar-winning film Le Monde du silence, which Cousteau had shot together with Louis Malle, a Filmdienst review stated that the feature-length film whooshed past ‘like a dream adventure’.2 Initially, the intended effect may have been to fascinate the spectator, but thirty years later Cousteau started increasingly to use his films to communicate scientific knowledge in the field of marine ecology and to sensitise the audience to this subject,3 hoping that, ideally, the films’ ‘transformative’ effects would result in a change of behaviour. These and similar transformations are the subject of this text. It is an attempt to unfold and interrelate different processes, using the example of the RhyCycling research and exhibition project,4 which examined the border region between Switzerland, Germany, and France along the river Rhine. The river and its environment are understood as an interdependent network and communication system for human and non-human actors (Latour 2005; Himmelsbach and Volkart 2007). This understanding is also the foundation of Latour’s ‘political ecology’ (Latour 1993, 2009), which calls for a transition from the doctrine of dominating nature to a society that embraces participation by all entities. Besides audiovisual research on recent (water-ecological) conditions above, under, and along the water, with a focus


on fish fauna, energy, and utilisation of the riverbank, the project also examined planned or imagined future changes for the region. The research relied on what are known as ‘aesthetics of sustainability’ (Kurt 2004: 238–41), which are found in (media) art, and it was influenced by current theories of aesthetics that include nature. It differs from scientific and technical positions by the choice of focal points in content, methods, and forms of presentation. An interdisciplinary team conducted the research, which is mainly based on methods from visual anthropology, with partners involved in topics of sustainable development and ecology. The goal of the project was to provide insight into the network and into the interdependencies and (im)balances of the region’s ecological microcosm. The edited research material was brought together in an interactive computer platform that was exhibited, together with several video installations, at the Port of Basel at the end of 2012. The following reflections take as their starting point different aspects of working in a transdisciplinary way. This approach includes using an interdisciplinary team of academic and non-academic experts to collaborate on developing and discussing content. The audiovisual material was shot in the Basel region together with, and at the locations of, the project partners from municipal offices, universities, private companies, NGOs, and other protagonists. A more informal exchange took place with members of the public, in particular in conversations with exhibition visitors about their experience while browsing through the interactive computer platform, the project’s ‘core’. I will relate these different forms of collaboration5 to current discussions in sustainability and scientific6 research, as well as to research in the arts,7 as there are intersections with approaches used in transformation design.8 RhyCycling is a snapshot, a work in progress, which can be continually complemented by new aspects. I consider both the research process and the resulting content as an ‘ongoing process of rethinking’ (Brandstetter 2013: 65) – of rethinking the steps that have been achieved so far and the (forms of) knowledge that have been produced. This is a rather new perspective, especially in the field of the performing arts and with regard to their temporary nature (length of a concert, duration of an exhibition, etc.): a public presentation, for example an exhibition or a performance, does not constitute a final result but rather a ‘starting point’ in an ongoing (interactive) process. Knowledge can be seen as transforming and flowing in an ‘endless’ process spanning different forms and formats. Therefore, the (supposed) end of the project can simultaneously be the starting point for further combinations, confrontations, and reflections. Hence, the italicised parts of this text are an attempt to relate, in a montage-like way, analytic/reflective passages to descriptive ones that provide detail on the approach used in the project. The intent ­behind this form is to allow a ‘gap’ that challenges recipients’ imagination and supports different points of view (Holm Vohnsen 2013: 143).


1 Release of young salmon at the river Wiese (Basel/Switzerland). Video still © Rhy­Cycling team 2011

2 Exhibition view of RhyCycling – Fluid Borderland, interactive computer platform with projection (left) and in monitor mode (right). © Ketty Bertossi 2012

3 Interface of the ­interactive computer platform: icons (A), keywords (B), and ­locations (C) are interrelated and support orientation on the surface of the interface. Screenshot © RhyCycling team 2012


Team, Partners, Protagonists There were different modes of collaboration in RhyCycling, mainly with the core and extended team, with project partners, and with the individuals who were filmed for the project. The interdisciplinary team of specialists from different backgrounds – ranging from the natural sciences to the humanities, to computer sciences, to art theory, sceno­graphy, design, and music – conducted the research. A core team of four people worked together quite closely for the mostly audiovisual research. Depending on the project-­phase and personal expertise of team members, we worked in different constellations, yet always with other collaborators who intervened on the issues under consideration from an ‘external’ point of view. It was a step-by-step approach. A musician, a graphic designer, and a computer scientist complemented the ‘extended’ team with their work. For the video (post)production we collaborated with a ­local company. The core team also collaborated with project partners working in the fields of ecology and sustainable development, all of whom are experts in both practice and theory, in order to gain meta-level input and create impact in other fields related to the project.9 Over the last decade, transdisciplinary work has become a central element in the production of new knowledge,10 and has become popular in different research contexts, for example in sustainability studies, in the social sciences, and also in research conducted at art academies. As a hitherto largely uncanonised research approach with heterogeneous methods, transdisciplinary collaboration is associated with a broad range of aspects, for example with participatory and experimental ­research practices, with possibilities of empowering the involved actors, or with ­different media-based knowledge presentation formats by which, besides text, non-textual forms such as concerts, exhibitions, interventions, and so on are also made publicly accessible. The concept of knowledge is central. The aim is to create holistic knowledge that transcends the boundaries between different disciplines and institutions, not least of all with the (political) intent of making the content available for practice. The range of the different research and application fields, of methods and techniques, is large. Thus, the debates that are important in the context of RhyCycling take place in different communities but also overlap at times, as will be briefly outlined in the following. On an international level, the integration of the arts into research started in the 1990s. This development has led to considerable changes that caused both the arts and the sciences to reflect on their practices in light of the new conditions. Inter- and transdisciplinary teams are increasingly working with an ‘open’ concept of research. Knowledge production, presentation, and reception, as well as the reflection of the processes involved in these activities, have become the central focus. In this context, Gabriele Brandstetter advocates a continuous evaluation of the interim steps achieved and of the forms of knowledge that have been created (Brandstetter


4 The RhyCycling film team accompanied a kerosene tanker from Düsseldorf, Germany, to Basel, Switzerland. Set photography © RhyCycling team 2011

2013: 65). Elke Bippus emphasises the material and formal conditionality of the production of knowledge on the grounds that not only determinable knowledge is important. She also states that artistic research processes reveal the mediality of what is used for reflection and wherein reflection takes place (Bippus 2013: 290). Considering knowledge production by taking into account aspects of the media used in this production represents an extension of and relates to an earlier observation in scientific research stating that knowledge constitutes itself through both experimental systems and the formats in which it is presented.11 Therefore, media-­ based representation of knowledge on the one hand and cognition on the other are interdependent. Transformation design is aimed at creating a sustainable, future-oriented culture, and thus represents a decidedly normative approach. As one of the main protagonists of transformation design, Harald Welzer analyses prevailing social conditions to outline visions for sustainable, future-oriented ways of life (Welzer and Sommer 2014). Frugality, cutting consumption, sustainability, and effective networking are methods of reduction. According to Welzer, these behavioural changes are not possible without a certain transformation of society, and he prefers this transformation to be effected by design rather than by disaster (Welzer 2012: 2).12 Wolfgang Jonas and Stephan Rammler synthesise different approaches of trans­


disciplinary models and use this synthesis to develop a conceptual framework for ­design research (Jonas and Rammler 2013: 323–27). Jonas and Rammler’s programme amalgamates, on the one hand, physical-philosophical reflections by physicist ­Basarab Nicolescu, who advocates combining different aspects of transdisciplinarity, including spiritual ones, with his ‘unity of knowledge’ model (Nicolescu 1996 and 2010: 22) and, on the other hand, the Mode 2 knowledge production formulated by Helga Nowotny and others (Nowotny, Scott, and Gibbons 2004) with ­attributes such as including non-academic knowledge13 – and, finally, with scientific-political ­visions of sustainability research combining system knowledge, target knowledge, and transformation knowledge.14 Due to its often problem-oriented nature, transdisciplinarity has also come under attack.15 Sabine Maasen describes transdisciplinarity as a new form of knowledge production aimed at both social acceptance and (economic) exploitation (Maasen 2010: 247, 262–64). In her analysis of the participatory aspects of such forms of collaboration, she states that for the promotion of both knowledge acceptance and validity, there was increasing tendency to involve, and thus empower, ­actors from non-scientific backgrounds. Although Maasen’s analysis relates to university projects and funding programmes in Germany, we can still draw some comparisons to forms of collaboration used in the RhyCycling project. It needs to be subjected to the same critical analysis of the fundamental problems that participatory approaches and the corresponding results can entail. Maasen differentiates between four categories of participation in transdisciplinary methods: intervening, methodological, explorative, and distributed transdisciplinarity (Maasen 2010: 254–58). Intervening transdisciplinarity (1) is characterised by temporary, close, and interlinked work relationships between the partners, by problem statements from the field of application, and by the empowerment of non-scientific actors who expect useful results for practice. In methodological transdisciplinarity (2), questions of representation and the concept of objectivity are the main focus. Artistic means and media are used for communication. As opposed to intervening transdisciplinarity, the projects characterised by methodological transdisciplinarity do not lead to real products or to products that will be accessible to the partners. This approach is strongly controlled by scientists and has a mainly stimulating/disturbing effect rather than connecting directly to the field of practice. Explorative transdisciplinarity (3) provides improved conditions for discussion and dialogue forums and fundamentally questions the boundaries between scientific and social knowledge. This approach employs various methods to enter into a dialogue with different actors. Distributed transdisciplinarity (4), finally, uses focus groups and scenario workshops as methods of participation. Integration of non-scientific knowledge is exclusively done in a methodological process controlled by scientists/researchers, and the partners’ contributions are not directly integrated into the core product.


5 Unloading the tanker’s kerosene at Basel Port of Switzerland. Set photography © RhyCycling team 2011

In principle, all four categories play a role in the RhyCycling project, albeit in varying degrees. The following characteristics were intended and have shaped the project: • processes predominantly controlled by the research team (2) • use of various methods in collaborating with different partners (3/4) • use of different media and formats, such as video, photography, and exhibitions, to communicate subjects; sensitising actors through use of artefacts and events (2) • critical analysis of the contemporary understanding of science, of questions of representation, and of the organisation of knowledge (2) • stimulating and disturbing results to encourage reflection among all partners (2) • practice partners’ expectations in relation to usefulness and applicability of results (1) The following characteristics did not conform to the above-described four categories: • The problem statement did not predominantly derive from the field of application (1) but from a humanities/(media) art-related perspective on sustainability and ecological development. • Not only reflective products (2) but also practice-linked products (such as the interactive computer platform) were created for the communication of research findings.


Wootton, A.B., and Davey, C.L. (2012). ‘Embedding Crime Prevention within Design’. In Ekblom, P. (guest ed.), ‘Design Against Crime. Crime Proofing Everyday Products’. Crime Prevention Series, vol. 27, Ronald V. Clarke (series ed.). Wootton, A.B., Davey, C.L., and Marselle, M. (2011). ‘Design Against Crime: A Catalyst for Change amongst Young People.’ Proceedings of 9th European Academy of Design Conference The Endless End, Porto, Portugal, 4–7 May 2011. Available at:


Owls to Athens, or: The Discrete Charm of Transformation Design. An Essay Michael Erlhoff

I. As a category, the term ‘transformation design’ represents a tautology because, when describing design in broad terms, one would have to define it as an offer to transform existing things and conditions and, therefore, as a many-faceted activity of transformation. Transformation is essential to understanding both the activity of designing and how we use design. After all, in the act of designing, design is constantly generated from the transformation of observations, memories, and experiences. This process, however, is always subject to specific societal conditions, including economics and culture, and therefore happens within the framework of specific conventions. Each design concept is first of all based on the designer’s individual processing of such societal factors, which influence every intellectual reflection and concrete activity in either a direct or an indirect way. Even the observation and ­specific acceptance of what might be considered coincidences are subject to these transformational structures. Another important and essential aspect regarding the relevance of transformation for design results from the permanent transformation of materials and from their combination into new material composites or even into entirely new materials. Doubtless this happens all the time in design, thus highlighting once more that transformation and design are inevitably linked to each other. Furthermore, contemporary design is characterised by the fact that objects and signs are not only conceptualised and designed as an interlinked entity but also have to be transferred into and conceived as processes: ‘hybrid networks between design and people as potentials for (transformation) processes that have become difficult to control’ (W. Jonas). The task of design today is no longer to create a new bicycle or car but to provide options, in this case for movement; design is no longer about designing telephones, not even mobile ones, but about enabling conversation regardless of distance, as well as options for information, orientation, and so on. The idea of transformation is even more clearly implied when designers today, for very good reasons, think about changing objects into services and develop these concepts within the framework of service design, for example. ‘Using Instead of Owning’ has been the maxim for some twenty years, one that aims at a radical form of transformation. Clearly, this also means, if you will, fundamentally seeing objects or products as service offers and formulating them accordingly.


II. In this context, we must highlight yet another perspective: use. We must do so because design is only ever realised in use. (Unlike art, design is inevitably social; it is dependent on taking into account social realities.) In use, however, objects, signs, and even services are often transformed. Use always means transformation: of chairs into wardrobes and ladders, of drinking glasses into pen holders, of walls into canvases, of cars into living rooms, and so on. But there is something else that happens due to this essential contiguity of ­design and the use of its products, something that each empirical study will clearly ascertain: as much as use, and hence the everyday life of designed products, is doubtlessly linked to transformation, this context equally implies that this kind of transformation, especially with regard to objects, signs, and services, is a very cautious or slow process. Everyday life tends to develop by evolution, not revolution. We are creatures of habit, and it takes quite a long time for new ways to establish themselves on an everyday basis; to get from genesis to validity, with regard to both new design concepts and actual behaviour, an amazing amount of time must pass. Just as an example: how long did it take in Germany for the Internet and mobile phones to become features of everyday life? Or how long did it take until concepts of using instead of owning, of service design, or of ‘corporate culture and tribal culture’ established themselves, although all of these concepts were first addressed more than twenty years ago? For these reasons, the processes that tend to become visible in design are predominantly evolutionary, and only very rarely revolutionary. One tends to design product series (especially in the automotive industry, but also in furniture, logos, packaging, aircraft); in retrospect, even the much-acclaimed German design of the 1980s (acclaimed because it was younger and more exciting than what went before) appears to be only an evolution from the entanglements and banality of the then-prevalent design. The same is true for Memphis, while the 1960s’ Disegno Radicale at least created and implied new forms of living. Thus, when we talk about transformation in and by design, we also have to think about the societal process of continuity and contiguity, and about the question of the role design plays, and can play, in this context.

III. It might be helpful to take another and more precise look at the word transformation. In dictionaries, you will find synonyms such as alteration, transfiguration, conversion, renewal, shift. When you look at the Latin verb transformare, it becomes even clearer, since this term is simply translated as ‘to change in shape’, thus confirming the earlier-described context of design and transformation.


On closer inspection, however, you cannot help but think that the trans of transformation could just as well point to something further from itself, to something above or beyond. Doubtless this does not apply to form in and of itself: it does not dissolve form, because form is both essential and sublime. Less than two centuries ago, Karl Marx quite rightly pointed out that work was always work, but that the form in which it was done was crucial. Thus work would be the content that changes permanently in the form in which it is done. However, simultaneously, at least sometimes, this would, or will, in turn also change the form in which work is done. You cannot escape this dialectic, and you might not escape the dialectic of transformation and design, with ‘dialectic’ clearly pointing to a relationship based on contradiction. And thus we have again arrived at the question of continuity and contiguity, or of evolution and revolution. At least, this is the case if, when considering transformation, in our minds we go through the implications of the radical translation of trans as ‘above and beyond’. If we now try to reconnect this reasoning to design, we could, on the one hand, look for examples in history where design indeed acted, to some extent, in revolutionary ways. What comes to mind, for instance, is the famous ‘Snow White’s Casket’, the radio designed by Dieter Rams in the 1950s, and, four decades earlier, Peter Behrens’ designs for AEG, or the radical professionalisation of design by French-born American Raymond Loewy. Of course, there are also pieces by Ettore Sottsass, Alessandro Mendini, or the UFO group, and also by Richard Sapper and certainly a few others. So what, you might ask, was so transformative or even revolutionary about these designs? There were certainly new dimensions of operation, new materials and material composites, surprising changes in geometry, even the dissolution of monumentality in designed objects, a new (after surrealism) questioning of the object as such, the development of new forms of living, and also the consideration of designed objects and signs as mere moments of inquiry. Sure, all these aspects were first attempts to decouple transformation from the traditional idea of design and conceive transformation as radical change. This also had an empirical effect: it either resulted in discontinuity in design itself, and hence led to new insight, or it even changed the markets (new product and production ideas) or upset everyday habits (Snow White’s Casket actually triggered a great deal of anger, with some people throwing stones in shop windows where it was displayed). Depending on interpretation, one could certainly find even more radical aspects in the development of the design of the last twenty-five years (although most of these aspects have not yet been understood and implemented in traditional design and its universities): for example, as mentioned earlier, the transformation of products into services and all concomitant changes, or even the extension of logos into corporate design, then into branding, and later into the relationship of corporate culture and tribal culture. However, these dimensions of design, which are ­today being discussed on an international stage, go far beyond the current level of understanding in traditional design and among the general public. OWLS TO ATHENS, OR: THE DISCRETE CHARM OF TRANSFORMATION DESIGN. AN ESSAY  077

In this context, there is another noteworthy development in the transformation of design and in transformation by design, namely the new form of design as relevant research, which has been gaining increasing acceptance. What used to be often implied in design, namely the competence to question and inquire (since this competence formulated new modes of operation, new materials and visuals), has now asserted itself both in design and in the perception of design (at least in some companies, institutions, and sciences). On the one hand, this has partly transformed design itself by giving it a new self-understanding; on the other hand, and indirectly promoted by this new self-understanding, this has led to new possibilities in understanding how we use design. Compared with the traditional understanding of design, this is indeed a revolutionary transformation that offers totally new forms of understanding both reality and the designability of reality. However, this is hardly recognised and acknowledged in design itself and in its everyday use, as generally both design and the perception of design are still predominantly ­focused on making.

IV. So far, so good, perhaps. An argument for transformation design, after all. In practical terms, however, the proposition of transformation design needs more than that. Some crucial input could be derived from a somewhat spectacular formulation in mathematics and physics, where we find the term ‘discrete transformation’ (see Jean-Baptiste Joseph Fourier, 1822, bearing in mind that discret is cognate with secret). Similar to the radical notion of trans as ‘above or beyond’, we could relate discrete transformation to what I have earlier in this essay said about the potential reality and competence of design. But something else is hidden in this extended category of discrete transformation, something that points to an altogether different and perhaps exciting dimension and competence of design. If we try, in practical, everyday terms, to see design as a radical modus of action, additional and totally different perspectives will open up. If we assume, for very good reasons, some of which have been stated earlier, that design always represents a hard-to-avoid intervention into everyday practices and life, then this intervention can be used in many different ways – often for very impertinent and silly matters (all sorts of companies and institutions do this in many ways to sell nonsensical or superfluous stuff or to sell relationships and reason of state). But it can also be used for enlightenment and criticism, and for developing our understanding of societal, and hence important, processes, and for changing habits. Design is, indeed, ideal for intervention, for changing habitual connections and behaviours, for identifying ignorance and so forth.


V. Yes, design can cause confusion and bewilderment, it can shake up the familiar order of things, it can transfigure chaos and thus produce both new experiences and intellectual doubt. Above all, design can explain and discuss problems; in other words, it can offer possibilities of understanding – at least, if it no longer believes that it can only, and must, solve problems. To provide a better idea of what I mean by design as discrete transformation, I will introduce some recent projects by students of the Köln International School of Design as examples below. At a time when fear of terrorist attacks took hold in German cities, some design students positioned an open cardboard box full of colourful, water-filled balloons in one of Cologne’s main shopping streets. It was a hot midsummer day. For several hours, people (many people) made wide circles around the box, some even running off as soon as they saw it, while others dove into backstreets. After a long time had passed, a man mustered up the courage to approach the box; he touched one of the balloons and then joyfully threw it up into the air, so that the balloon exploded on the street and released its water. As soon as other people saw this, they also ran over to the box and joined in the fun of cooling themselves down on this hot summer day. This is an excellent example of how general circumstances and media reports combine to create projections in which things are no longer perceived for what they are, but serve as representations of our fears or desires – until someone comes and puts these things to the test. In this context, we also have to acknowledge that the aforementioned media reports are also based on design. Hence, in this example, design explains design. Another example: in one of Cologne’s metro stations, strong rubber bands were tied close to one of the exits in such a way that it looked as if the exit was closed. It would, however, have been easy to pull the rubber bands to one side and simply walk through the exit. But nobody would do that; even some police officers turned around and took another exit. Obviously, the visual impression always reigns supreme, especially in relation to touch, as touch always implies proximity, always vacillates between eroticism and revulsion, and therefore can be unpleasant. As an aside, this also implies, generally speaking, another peculiar and certainly essential design competence: using visually convincing fakes to upset our confidence in our senses. Who else, apart from designers, creates those fictitious books and films, who develops animation, the fictitious ensoulment (that even believes in a soul), and who is the expert for models that serve to imagine reality? These kinds of fakes are also an expression of the transformative power of design. We cannot escape this power, but we can analyse it and, where appropriate, play with it. Another similar example: special tactile boxes were built for an exhibition in the Art and Exhibition Hall of the Federal Republic of Germany. Visitors could not look inside the boxes, they could only put their hands in them. Apparently, it took


Social Transformation Design as a Form of Research Through Design (RTD): Some Historical, Theoretical, and ­Methodological Remarks Wolfgang Jonas

Overview Social Transformation Design is typically associated with obviously deplorable phenomena such as poverty in rural Bangladesh or youth crime in European suburbs and the miraculous potential of design to successfully deal with them. In contrast, we think it is the fundamental research paradigm for developing as well as highly developed consumer societies, which are both facing the challenge of the ‘Great Transformation’ (WBGU 2011). This paper reflects on the concept of social transformation design and its relation to design research. The approaches of Herbert Simon and C. West Churchman are considered as exemplary basic contributions, far ahead of the actual origins. Werner Ulrich’s framework of Critical Systems Thinking presents a theoretical and operational attempt at integrating all relevant aspects. Practice-based design research or Research Through Design (RTD), with its often not sufficiently thought-out mix of analytic observation and projective judgement, raises the question of whether this is proper research. On the other hand, ‘proper’ design research with a rigorous scientific attitude, with its clear separation of observation and judgement, often leads to fairly trivial results. An attempt at solving this dilemma is presented, which provides a further clarification of RTD. The approach focuses on communicative systems and interface building and conceives autonomous collectives/social systems as observers and ­legitimate knowledge producers. RTD turns out to be the prototypical form of ­research for social transformation. The question of whether this is proper research in the scientific sense is regarded as secondary.

The Social: An Ambiguous Concept ‘Social’ in relation to design can be considered as a normative attitude, aiming at ­social balance, fairness, support, abstaining from inappropriate private profit, and so on, or as a descriptive stance, observing communication patterns of different


types, consisting of interaction processes that create autopoietic systems, or of ­ ybrid networks of human and non-human actors (Jonas 2011). h The evolution of modern society came about with the formation of specialised functional subsystems, which led to an immense increase in internal complexity and efficiency, but also to rigid structures and autopoietic closure. Subsystems work according to their own incompatible eigen-logic, making a universal logic, let alone value system, impossible. Design never became a fully developed subsystem comparable to law, politics, science, or economy. Following Latour (1998a), one might argue that it has never been modern. This non-disciplinarity is not a flaw but seems to be essential for design’s character as an interface-creating agency between the artefacts and their environments. The interfaces depend on the specific purpose – aesthetic, functional, emotional, economic, ethical, and so on – which is reflected in the various ideologies, notions, and histories of design. This non-disciplinary position misleads designers into regarding their profession as a moral representative of ‘the whole’. They mix what should be carefully separated – namely, the process competence to conceive and organise change processes and the competence to decide what is preferable or good. The former is design and research competence, the latter a negotiation and decision process among stakeholders, including design. The situation is even worsened by the urge to ‘think bigger’ (Brown 2009), for designers to redefine their role and shift activities towards more complex social subjects. The Kyoto Design Declaration (2008) is definitely a loud-mouthed appeal to save the world. What justifies this hubris? Designers are moral human beings, but they should clearly separate their private preference system from the value system of the enquiring system they are working with and for. The naive claim for morality as a constituent of design seems to be a symptom of immaturity and impedes its recognition by other disciplines. Ethics, as the reflection of morals, is essential but should remain implicit in the process and the methods. Only by dropping rigorous moral concepts will design be able to work for real people in their individuality and real communities in their specificity. The humanistic attitude ignores and even destroys complexity. Design teams, companies, and individuals are definitely responsible for what they are doing, but responsibility is possible only if we do not retreat to moral positions. Responsibility means the duty to know the knowable facts of the situation and the willingness to provide perspective in a democratic and designerly process. Normativity should be replaced by purpose orientation. Rosenblueth, Wiener, and Bigelow (1943) reintroduced the concept of teleology into science. Designers should rather conceive of themselves as scouts, sometimes as jesters, hopefully as ­respected partners in a network of disciplines and stakeholders. The creation of ­variations/alternatives is their unique area of expertise. Imagination, provocation, ­intervention, and so on are essential to design’s role in increasing the variety of choices for people. Moral, critical, and humanistic attitudes would be better transformed into an ironical attitude (Rorty 1989).


Facts and Values: Epistemic Democracy and RTD Occasionally, the self-made shears in the head, due to ongoing debates in the academic design community, evoke the question of whether the above concepts of social transformation design (generative, normative, involving the researcher, etc.) are ‘proper’ research. De Zeeuw (2010) argues that formats such as action research, evidence-based research, the soft-systems approach, the Mode 2 form of knowledge, or RTD are contested, because they permit contributions in the form of observations as well as judgements. How can we deal with the problem of separating/integrating ‘objective’ facts and ‘subjective’ values, observations and judgements, means and ends in social transformation design? Lykins (2009) suggests that: […] a better understanding of the relationship between facts and values can lead to a more direct line between social science and social progress. […] Experts and laypersons will deal with each other in one way or another. Matters will be left private or managed publically. And these interactions will produce consequences, some pleasing and others not. The more we can know about these consequences and how to control them, the more we can speak intelligently about them.

Max Weber (1864–1920) is the proponent of value neutrality. He conceives sociology as a science, which is aiming to understand and causally explain social action in its conditions and effects. Although Weber concedes that social enquiry arises from concrete needs and values, he argues that sociology cannot inform us as to what should be. Value claims can be justified only by appeal to some non-rational, arbitrary point, such as tradition or desire. Moral decisions are not reducible to empirical hypotheses.

Max Weber



Emile Durkheim



John Dewey



2 The relation of facts and values in sociological theory building (adapted from Lykins 2009)


Émile Durkheim (1858–1917) conceives social facts and structures as matters of fact, which are to be discovered by the sociologist. They determine human acting. Methods and epistemic standards of natural science must be maintained if there is to be social science. Furthermore, science can provide a way of assessing value claims objectively. The definition of ‘good’ can be discovered through an analysis of actual conditions. Social sickness is indicated by deviations from the average state in a ­society. This position has been criticised as ‘naturalistic fallacy’. John Dewey (1859–1952) argues that facts (means) and values (ends) are interdependent and that they are different only in degree. A factual statement is bare and isolated, offering little direction for future conduct. A value statement is contextual and temporal, and expresses significance. It involves a judgement about the consequences that follow from an action. This is the only difference between facts and values. One involves taking things as they are, the other involves taking things in their relations to antecedents and consequences. The difference between scientific study of natural as opposed to social questions is due to the degree of complexity of the relations under investigation. Dewey does not believe that the standards for judging means can be furnished externally (by experts, designers, laypeople). He argues that the criteria for evaluating ends come from within the situation itself. This means that epistemic heterogeneity has to be taken as the essential condition for relevant enquiry. Anderson (2006) argues for the epistemic benefits of democracy. And she realises the problem of forming a public that can understand and respond to its own problems. Latour (2003 and 2004) suggests that scientific and political debate should be taking place in a common space. He discusses ‘collective socio-scientific experiments’, which are no longer conducted in the laboratory but involve wider communities and in some cases the population of the world as a whole. And he proposes specific ‘protocols’ of conduct for each individual problem. De Zeeuw (2010) suggests a ‘hybrid’ form of research for social intervention that makes use of both observations and judgement without ignoring the distinctions between them. This is apparently a problem of contextualisations, of boundaries or interfaces, of whole systems ethics in Churchman’s sense (Churchman 1979). The new form of research should ‘include the dilemma as part of its knowledge production’ (De Zeeuw 2010: 8). To make judgements part of research would require the ability to create judgement systems that resemble recognition systems – for example, a collective of actors whose members decide which values to assign and which values to include in order to maintain and defend their decisions. Research that excludes judgemental contributions can be referred to as ­Cartesian (or Leibnizian in Churchman’s notion). Cartesian knowledge consists of declarative statements that connect observations and support prediction in terms of their connections. Research that includes such contributions is processual and evolutionary, and has a Darwinian (or Singerian) flavour; it aims at the breeding of more able (competent) collectives. Autopoietic closure creates a collective as observing and acting system. Judgement is an integral part of the knowledge-producing


system, which avoids the explicit external statement of problems, research aims, moral aims, and so on. This means a shift from satisfying observed needs towards enabling collectives to become social actors who define preferred states. Christakis (1996) suggests a ‘People Science’ that performs a ‘[…] “shift” from an individual-­ centred conception of knowledge and understanding to one that is socially-based’. John Chris Jones (1999: 407) introduces the Internet-based notion of ‘creative democracy’: […] a vision of the future in which the controlling roles and functions of Modern life could be shared with everyone […] a virtual planet earth […] an expanded version of the internet through which ‘universal despecialisation’ and ‘creative democracy’ and other such unexpected conditions are already implicit if not active.

The concept of RTD (Jonas 2007) may be the model for social transformation design processes, a specific mode of designerly enquiry and change that allows and supports ‘epistemic democracy’ (fig. 3): the reflection of facts and values within a wider context of relevance (bigger ellipsis) generates a design/enquiring system of the Churchman type (smaller ellipsis), which creates the driving force for the transformation (arrows). The disembodied Cartesian enquirer is replaced by an embodied, social, intentional enquirer. Does it really matter if this is considered ‘proper’ research or not? Is it not anxious clinging to nineteenth-century myths of rational and value-free science? The above deliberations show that the central difference with respect to Cartesian ­research lies in the extended concept of the knowledge-generating collectives and in the inclusion of various knowledge types, including judgement. This results in higher complexity of the research situation and implies an increased demand for reflection and carefulness in meeting the standards of research. If we accept the new condition, then we have a difference in degree, not in kind.

‘epistemic democracy’


Research Through Design


3 Epistemic democracy establishes the design/enquiring system as the basis of RTD


The Relation to Design Methodology Design Process Models We consider design and design research as a cybernetic process of experiential learning, which follows evolutionary patterns (Kolb 1984). There are various fourstep models of design and design research processes, such as the one of the Institute of Design Chicago, which directly relates to Kolb, as well as models with five or more steps. Yet three-step models from various fields such as design, management, scenario planning, and HCI reveal the underlying logic most clearly: there are three modes of inference, induction–abduction–deduction, with abduction as the central designerly phase. Table 2 shows a representative overview of these models. Our own theoretical framework of Research Through Design (RTD) with the phases of ANALYSIS – PROJECTION – SYNTHESIS (Jonas 2007) is included. The analogy to the terminology of Transdisciplinarity Studies is obvious. In a methodological view, the above consideration implies a transformation from professional problem-solving expertise to participative projects, directed by designers, and finally towards collaborative/collective/communicative action, possibly facilitated by designers. We face the basic problems of control, due to systemic complexity, and of prediction, due to future uncertainty.


Phases/components/domains of knowing in design research

Jones (1970)




Archer (1981)




Simon (1969), Weick (1969)




Gausemeier, Fink, and Schlake (1996)

Scenario field analysis

Scenario prognosis

Scenario building

Nelson and Stolterman (2003)

the True

the Ideal

the Real

Jonas (2007) RTD




Fallman (2008)

Design studies

Design exploration

Design practice

Brown (2009)




Nicolescu (2002) Transdisciplinarity studies

System knowledge

Target knowledge

Transformation knowledge

Table 2: Triadic concepts of experiential learning processes in design research, especially providing the framework for RTD and transdisciplinarity studies


Transformation Design: A Social-­Ecological Perspective


Bernd Sommer and Harald Welzer

Introduction In his book Collapse (2005), Jared Diamond investigated the failure of societies. All the cases studied reveal one common feature: the survival strategies that had been successfully deployed for centuries to safeguard life and survival before the collapse suddenly turned into dangerous traps under changing environmental conditions. When, for example, on the Easter Island the crop yields deteriorated as a result of soil erosion, the islanders intensified the land use – and thereby accelerated their self-abolition. This is just one of many examples, which demonstrate that cultures are very bad at changing their strategies for success under stress conditions; usually they intensify the old strategies and run into disaster ever more quickly. The impression is probably not wrong when strong parallels to the current growth economy come to mind. For the concept of growth is becoming even more prominent at the same time as the consequences of exceeding the ‘limits to growth’ are showing up ever more clearly, as Dennis Meadows and colleagues determined quite accurately more than forty years ago (Meadows et al. 1972). Yet nothing substantial has changed in the capitalist metabolism with nature since that time. On the contrary, in the meantime, the capitalist growth economy has spread all over the planet, so any limits to growth – in material and energy consumption, as in emissions and waste quantities – are permanently exceeded globally (Rockström et al. 2009). Nevertheless, science and politics, business and administrations are sticking to the strategies they know – and all the more persistently, the more clearly they prove to be hopeless. In short: they all stick to Plan A. They don’t seem to know a Plan B. This is not surprising, because it is known how we came, on the basis of a fossil-fuelled growth economy, to this enormous material and civilisational progress that made the people in the so-called global North the privileged class of the world. But there is, for the time being, at best fragmentary knowledge about how such a civilisation can be maintained under conditions in which material and energy consumption and emissions and waste quantities are reduced by a factor of five to ten. Against this background, transformation design can, first of all, be conceived as the heuristic of a reductive, sustainable modernity.


The Expansive Modernity The current development of modern societies is basically characterised by an expansive dynamics – internally as well as externally. Against the background of colonisation and ongoing globalisation of economic and cultural models that started their propagation in Europe and North America about 250 years ago, the expansion movement ‘outward’ needs hardly any further explanation. But also ‘inside’, these societies are characterised by tremendous growth in commodity production and consumption, and consequently in their resource and energy consumption as well (see fig. 1).

1 Growth rates in selected social areas between 1750 and 2000 (Steffen et al. 2011)


An unholy alliance of established purchasing power, cheap transport capacity, externalised environmental costs, ever-shortened product cycles, and hyper-consumerist everyday culture has so far resulted in the doubling of the consumption of textiles per decade – and the same goes for furniture, food, and so on (Schor 2010). While fifty years ago people in Germany had to work an average of forty-two days in order to purchase a TV set, it takes just four days today; for the purchase of pork chops, you had to work two and a half hours, while today it’s only half an hour. The working time expended for the purchase of bread has been cut in half, as well as for a litre of petrol. Today, one-tenth of the working time of 1960 is sufficient for a chicken or a piece of butter (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 21/22 December 2013, C1). This radically increased general purchasing power due to huge increases in productivity is the reason why people today have far more resources with which to consume more and more things, and why, at the same time, stuff is worth so little that it will be replaced by the next model as soon as possible. In Germany alone, the surface sealing proceeds at a rate of seventy hectares daily, just as the cars are getting bigger, long-distance travel becomes more frequent, and common and living areas grow larger. In a culture whose value ​​preference is to have more and more of everything permanently available, any increase in efficiency immediately translates into a rebound, which means the consumerist use of the savings on energy, materials, or money for the purchase of another device, an additional trip, a bigger car. An economy based essentially on the generation of added value through increased productivity and market expansion will systematically not allow anything else. It simply has no functional limit and cannot stop until, as Max Weber formulated a century ago, ‘the last quintal of fossil fuel is burned up’ (Weber 1905: 180). Such a system will not pause until it has run out of fuel. Until then, however, its destructive potential is growing steadily. Against this background, a problem emerges, which reveals paradoxical characteristics: the increasing destruction of natural resources and of present and future survival conditions is carried out for the purpose of hyper-consumption, which does not increase happiness but rather causes suffering. Consumption stress, leisure stress, lack of time, burnout, obesity are the pertinent keywords here. Thus, the underlying economy of growth not only ensures a steady increase in the quantities purchased and processed, but this increase turns out more and more to be a burden in practical everyday life. Increasing destruction generates growing unhappiness. Therefore, the reversal of the direction from ‘more’ to ‘less’ seems advisable, to put it cautiously. In the context of modern societies, the development of a heuristic of ‘less’ is especially necessary because all successful steps towards a ‘greening’ of capitalist societies have not changed the fact that for decades almost every year has brought a new record in the consumption of energy and raw materials, as well as in the production of waste and emissions. An economic and social model aiming at expansion seems by itself incapable of correcting the basic direction of development, be


it by changes in consciousness or by efficiency gains. One can prove this empirically by the observation that during the more than four decades since the release of Limits to Growth (Meadows et al. 1972), while it is true that a variety of value postures, lifestyles, laws, and political preferences have changed, neither a single change nor the sum of these changes has caused an interruption of this nature-destructive logic of growth. Only occasionally could a ‘greening’ of individual sectors and regions be achieved; but this was primarily driven by the shift of highly resource- and emissions-intensive industries to other parts of the world, where environmental crises are the more virulent since. Therefore, transformation design, as we understand it, has the task of searching for ways out of this dangerous corridor, which reverses the direction of civili­ sation and successively puts democracy, law, governance, and freedom more and more under stress. However, such ways out are not easily found, because not only are our outer life and survival conditions, infrastructures and institutions, still dominated by the expansive culture model, but also the inner worlds, the ‘mental infrastructures’ (Welzer 2011): perceptions, habits, routines, problem-solving strategies, and self-images. ‘The delusion’, as a dictum of Sigmund Freud puts it, ‘of course, will never be realized by the one who still shares it’ (Freud 2000 [1930]: 213). If you look at how much the ecology movement and its institutions – from research institutes and non-governmental organisations to political parties – have successively affirmed the expansive mainstream culture and talk of resource efficiency and (green) growth almost more enthusiastically than economic liberals, it becomes obvious that the economic suppleness of capitalism perfectly corresponds to a political one: just as this economic system can incorporate any counter-movement from renewable energy generation to share-economy, so it adopts the mental inventory of green strategies to improve the world and transforms them into modernisation infusions. No way out? That depends on another attempt. However, such an attempt should not be borne by the idea that a Great Transformation could be successful right away, or that it is reliant on the design of master plans, which are to be meticulously implemented in the coming decades. For ‘new’ conditions – any profound social change has proven this – are at best amalgamations of new types of order and existing traditions and infrastructures of various kinds. Social development processes, especially in highly complex, modern societies, are fundamentally characterised by non-linearity and momentum, which run constantly against the intentions of the actors or show paradoxical effects. Therefore, it is reasonable to start from segmental transformations of different type and effect, which is also politically advisable. In the demand for a Great Transformation, it is indeed necessary to consider that the object to be transformed is not some fixed, stable state – the finished product of a historical process, so to speak. If one looks at the evolving capitalist growth economy since the mid-eighteenth century, which has since spread across the globe in various dynamic thrusts, one will find that the transformation initiated 250 years


ago, namely the capitalist formation of all areas of life, is still in full swing: globalisation, standardisation of forms of life and consumption, individualisation, progressive resource use, commercialisation of all areas of life, economic monopolies, geopolitical re-figurations. All this is not finished, but indeed is currently being intensified. This finding is also, or especially, true if the term Great Transformation is used in reference to Karl Polanyi. For the so-called ‘dis-embedding’ of market processes from superordinate societal contexts, which he identified and criticised (Polanyi 1973), is being intensively continued in the present.

Transformation by Design or by Disaster This economic and social model, which threatens to become fatal, especially in the course of its globalisation, has led not only to a historically quite incomparable ­general level of prosperity but also to non-material standards of civilisation that modern societies consider as imperative today: freedom, democracy, rule of law, edu­cation, and health and social care. So if one puts the question of necessary transformations in the economy into a social context, it is about nothing less than the question of whether the standard of civilisation that people have achieved in the early-industrialised societies can be preserved or not. This question is not trivial, but concerns very basic living conditions. One only has to compare the life of a ‘typical teenager’ at the beginning of industrial modernity with his/her life today to realise not only the incredible increase in possession of things, but also the astounding growth of personal opportunities. The typical teenager of the late nineteenth century did not attend school, but went to a factory to put in ten to twelve hours of poorly paid work, and his/her average life expectancy was not eighty but forty-five years (Uchatius 2013). This example illustrates like a spotlight that the last hundred years have not only meant an increase in material wealth but also a progression of civilisational standards. Therefore, the challenge for transformation design is to trace a mode of socialisation that allows for the retention and even further development of these same civilisational standards, and at the same time admits radically reduced consumption of natural resources. So it’s not about a ‘back to the trees’ project, as polemically assumed by the critics of environmentalism, but rather about the organisation of reduction in the context of modern societies. Politically, this translates into the question of whether one proactively uses the possibilities for economic and social transformation that are given under the present conditions, or whether one passively consigns to a process in which the possibilities for action are steadily narrowing under increasing stress, in which the primacy of the economy is still further strengthened, and which finally could lead to a de-civilisation, which gives more rights and survival chances to the stronger than to the weaker.


Following Mathis Wackernagel (2014), the president of the Global Footprint Network, the underlying pragmatic attitude can be easily characterised: in the context of their unsustainable metabolism, with its non-human nature, our societies will change in any case; the only question is whether by design or by disaster. In case of a ‘transformation by design’, one cannot avoid looking at social issues.

Is a Reductive Modernity Possible? Despite the sometimes massive overuse of ecosystems and natural resources, large parts of the world population continue to suffer deprivation. In the opinion of the development economist Kate Raworth (2012), the reason for this is not the number of the world’s population, in other words the notion that too many people live on the earth, as neo-Malthusian argumentation patterns imply. The decisive factors are mainly the resource-intensive modes of production and consumption in the early-industrialised developed countries. Thus, Raworth states: • Only 11 per cent of the global population is responsible for about 50 per cent of carbon dioxide emissions, while 50 per cent of people emit only 11 per cent (2012: 20). • About 16 per cent of the population consumes 57 per cent of the world’s electricity (20). • The European Union – about 7 per cent of the world’s population – is responsible for the consumption of about 33 percent of a sustainable nitrogen budget, and this mainly for the production of animal feed (20). ‘The wealthy few stress the planet’, Raworth says (19). Following Ulrich Brand and Markus Wissen, one can speak in this context of an ‘imperial way of life’ (Brand and Wissen 2011). By that, they mean ‘manorial production-, distribution- and consumption patterns that are deeply embedded in the everyday practices of the upper and middle classes in the global North and increasingly in the emerging economies of the South’ (79). This way of life is considered ‘imperial’ because it presupposes an in-principle unlimited access to resources, space, labour capacity, and disposal sites elsewhere, which are secured politically, legally, and in part even violently (83). In other words, this way of life is based on exclusivity: it presupposes that not all people have equal access to the resources and sinks of the earth (84). Ecologically, it can only work this way. From a historical perspective, one may also observe that such a way of life, which is structurally dependent on the use of natural resources from outside, has not been the result of the industrialisation of Europe but has rather been its condi-


Moreover, these innovations should reveal: […] the hidden practices of modernist innovations: objects have always been projects; matters of fact have always been matters of concern. (13)

so that ultimately the question arises: How can we draw together matters of concern so as to offer to political disputes an overview, or at least a view, of the difficulties that will entangle us every time we must modify the practical details of our material existence? (12)

ANT and Design

A few design researchers expressed an interest in Latour and ANT early on, but a broader acceptance has emerged only recently.1 Ironically, these authors mostly concentrated on the material aspects of ANT (‘Dingpolitik’, Latour 2008b), for example the Scandinavian designers who link ANT’s perspective to their tradition of participatory design.2 Projects that explicitly tackle Latour’s design challenge are rare.3 One reason might be that, while the ANT analytical perspective offers a method of observing and describing, it cannot be operationalised directly for the synthesising needs of design. To achieve this, Latour’s arguments must be placed in design’s historico-systematic context. There are good reasons why designers relate to ANT and Latour’s work, especially since the publication of his seminal article on ‘Visualization and Cognition: Drawing Things Together’ (Latour 1986). These reasons include: • ambition to bridge the gap between ‘materialist’ and ‘mentalist’ explanations for the ‘specifics of modern scientific culture’ (Latour 1986: 1); • a ‘passion for inscription devices’ (30)4 and ‘immutable mobiles’ (7);5 • the re-evaluation of the functions of objects and their reassessment as ‘things’/‘Dinge’ (6); • epistemological insights with regard to drawing and modelling (Latour and Yaneva 2008); and • the design of the theoretical framework and its ‘originality of what is more a method to deploy the actor’s own world-building activities than an alternative social theory’ (Latour 1999: 15).6


1 Dissemination of Barack Obama’s tweet ‘Four more years’ by mfglabs7

Responses to Latour’s Design Challenge A designer’s first response might be to point out projects that already successfully render matters of concern, even if they do not directly relate to Latour or ANT, such as the following: • Soccer matches (matters of concern for millions) are visualised in excruciating detail (heat maps, 3D simulation, players’ scores, financial transactions, etc.). • Tweets are visualised in real time as an aid to understanding the dynamics of social systems. • An architectural survey of the urban territory of Venice, Italy, that mapped the different perspectives of the inner-city population, tourists, and illegal immigrants in an atlas of comprehensive graphics ( and Scheppe 2009). The emergent field of data journalism that is developing new, integrative forms of text and images, dynamic presentation, and mediated interactions can provide the expertise for structuring and visualising matters of concern and the debates they engender. If examples like those cited above would not meet Latour’s expectations, the question becomes how complex the visualisations he calls for can be made before they begin to overtax cognitive capacities and so become counterproductive for practical use. A map at a scale of 1:1 is clearly not feasible. Images may abound, but what is lacking is structure, which calls for an effort to develop visual standards. The


2 Screenshot from the project ‘Mind 17’ that attempts to define visual standards for the rhetoric of controversial debate. (Concept: PFS; illustration: Meier)

effective new visualisations produced during the Florentine Renaissance cited by Latour were based on standards, not idiosyncratic styles. The systematic foundations that visualisation standards will need in the future are potentially found in the medieval trivium of grammar, rhetoric, and logic.8 The epistemological functions of rhetoric and of aesthetic aspects in research processes to date have not been given their due. They were criticised as random and affective, and as such they contradicted the myth of science as a completely rational endeavour. However, recent enquiries into the material, social, and communicative conditions of research processes (like Latour’s) showed that it is exactly the ambiguity of aesthetic artefacts such as pictures and metaphors that helps in generating ideas in the first place and thus is essential for research processes (Gross 1996 and Nate 2009). Building on these insights, design can create new visual standards based on the epistemological functions of rhetoric and aesthetic aspects for use in developing alternative formats for scientific research and communication. As a second response, a designer inspired by Latour’s ‘matters of concern’ approach might interpret his lack of definition as an opportunity for generating new perspectives for future design tasks. In the course of developing these perspectives, a first step would be to give credit where due to achievements by designers who designed matters of concern avant la lettre (Stephan 2001).


Matters of Concern in Design History Notable Contributions Notable projects in the history of design may be said to have already involved the ­design of matters of concern, including: • Buckminster Fuller’s ‘World Game’ (1961), by displaying the global flows of money and resources, showing complex relationships, and asking for alternatives in a tangible, interactive, and playful way; • the film Powers of Ten (1968) by Charles and Ray Eames, by showing the scalability of man’s environment and raising concerns about humanity destined to live in an artificial world; and • design groups from the 1960s and 1970s, among them Super­ studio, Archizoom, and Archigram, by using advanced visualisation and interactive formats (films, comic strips, and performances, etc.) in developing and communicating complex issues affecting design and society. Instead of working on matters of fact, like ‘four walls with a roof’, it was standard practice for these teams of architects to focus on matters of concern, such as social issues like how to organise public and private life when designing built environments.

Otto Neurath: Conception of Science, Political Aspiration, and Artistic Style The only work Latour cites from design history is that of Otto Neurath (1882–1945), who invented the Isotype symbolic language for visualising facts related to economic and social issues (Neurath 1936). When Otto Neurath devised his isotypes he was trying to do something which was the equivalent of what had been attempted during the Renaissance, namely to link together in a powerful synthesis a certain conception of science – logical positivism –, a certain political aspiration – the socialism of Red Vienna – with a certain artistic style – Bauhaus modernism. […] Neurath gives us the exact magnitude of the task to be completed. (Latour 2008c: 49, 50)

Latour thus identifies the threefold basis for Neurath’s endeavour as an amalgam of science, politics, and art. For the historical projects listed in section 2.1 above, a Neurath-type, threefold basis might look like this:


• Conception of science: early cybernetics, systems theory, planning theory. • Political aspiration: left-wing, emancipatory, ecological move­ ment. • Artistic style: avant-garde, multimedia, pop culture. Confronting today’s challenges also calls on us to define such foundations. Accordingly, we propose the following threefold scheme: • Conception of science: a revised understanding of knowledge work that acknowledges cognitive diversity as conceived of in ANT , that postulates a ‘new production of knowledge’ (Gibbons et al. 1994), and that leads to the concept of a ‘Mode 2’ knowledge (Nowotny et al. 2001). • Political aspiration: insights into post-growth society; social activism vs. neo-liberalism. • Artistic style: avant-garde, popular tech culture.

Matters of Concern as Common Ground for ANT, Argument Visualisation, and Online Deliberation While giving Latour credit for articulating the design challenge, we can critique his omission of any contemporary field of professional activity that could potentially contribute to meeting that challenge. In our view, the quest to invent new visualisation tools will need to resort to distributed competencies, such as: • argument visualisation, which grew out of early cybernetics and decision theory (Kirschner, Buckingham-Shum, and Carr 2003). It has potential for formalising and displaying different perspectives on controversial aspects attaching to matters of concern • online deliberation, the research field that grew out of non-academic citizen initiatives and today blends political and communication sciences with design and technical expertise, and focuses on organising debates using online tools (Davies and Gangadharan 2009). These fields are in active development and rely heavily on research and new technology.9 Both have integrated design from the start but missed connecting with Actor-Network Theory. Since argument visualisation and online deliberation are essential for addressing matters of concern in Latour’s sense, it seems appropriate to combine them with ANT for purposes of future research.


3 ‘Matters of concern’ is the common core formed by the over­ lapping competency fields of Actor-Network Theory, design, and ­online deliberation. (Diagram: PFS)

Science and Technology Studies (STS) Assembly

Sociotechnical Graphs Research in Discourse

Online Deliberation Argument Visualisation

Cultural Technology – material turn

Actor-Network Theory Hybrids

Chains of Action


Matters Immutable Mobiles of Concern Materiality Participatory Design

Cognitive Governance Public Policy Social Innovation Visualisation Interface

Political Sciences

Design Cognitive Design Human Centred Design

Service Design Transformation Design

A Closer Look at ‘Matters of Concern’ Pursuing our dissection of Latour’s design challenge, we now need to ask: what ­exactly are matters of concern? The concept is essential to Latour’s argument and ­figures prominently in several of his publications.10 However, instead of yielding a precise definition, these lengthy, partly redundant descriptions give rise to more questions.11 For designers to willingly accept Latour’s design challenge, they will first need to clarify the underlying terms. We now address this need by taking a look at ‘scenography’, one of Latour’s key metaphors.

Scenography and ‘the whole machinery of a theatre’ Even though the term is central to his argument, Latour does not deliver a clear definition of ‘matter of concern’. Instead, he offers a multitude of descriptions that are not always coherent and sometimes contradictory, such as the following: A matter of concern is what happens to a matter of fact when you add to it its whole scenography, much like you would do by shifting your attention from the stage to the whole machinery of a theatre. (Latour 2008c: 39) Matters of fact were indisputable, obstinate, simply there; matters of concern are disputable, and their obstinacy seems to be of an entirely different sort: they move, they carry you away, and, yes, they, too, matter. (39)


nities for adaptation and iteration. This is reminiscent of Latour’s ‘slight surprise of action’ (1999: 266) where we only understand possibility through action. The Escape Committee challenges students to understand the world as a complex network of actors, where the designer’s intention is not always achievable and user behaviour remains unpredictable. It challenges them to critique dominant discourses and societal frameworks to understand their role in the world, while developing a process of engagement where consequences are neither certain nor dogmatic, but negotiated and contingent.

Social Empowerment through Participatory Speculation The final case studies are examples of projects completed by third-year students. With the guidance of a tutor, students set up a territory for investigation and produce work to interrogate key questions located within this space. Two finalists – Tearlach Byford (2014) and Hefin Jones (2013) – engaged with vastly different subjects (mining and space travel, respectively), but each used fiction as a device to prototype new forms of social and political engagement.

The Architecture of Legitimacy In 2013, Byford began by investigating mining as a historical and material phenomenon. He was interested in how the social, economic, and representational reality of mining had changed in the UK over the last century. He developed a project that hybridised ecological lobbying, paternal capitalism, and labour organisation. The Social Mining Union (SMU) reconceptualised the trade union for contemporary scrap collectors in the twenty-first century and combined social engagement with political lobbying power through the acquirement of shares in Glencore plc (Byford 2014a). The outcomes of the project included: an organisational structure, a financial system, a set of tools for mining scrap, an identity for the union, and a fictional identity for himself, the union leader (fig. 5). The project culminated with a visit to Glencore’s annual general meeting in Switzerland, to confront the board with questions about their corporate social responsibility. In an interview with Byford six months after he completed the project, I asked him how he used fiction throughout his project. Reflecting on the way in which he built his narrative, Byford observed: ‘Part of my fictionalizing was creating a character for myself. I designed a business card, a personality, a suit: it was the architecture of legitimacy’ (2014b). Through building and writing fiction, he found real-­ world legitimacy. By trying to understand the role he would inhabit during his (eventual) engagement with the organisation, he materialised props that could


5 The Social Mining ­Union. Final-year ­project. Tearlach ­Byford (2014)

shape and validate his character. His alternate identity grew from a network of material statements – an identity in the real world assembled by virtue of a semi-fictional design practice. This method differs from the typical mechanisms of political engagement and the traditional roles of design practice. In this example, the designer constructs a political event through the material entities that constitute the formative context. Engagement evolves through a material support structure, and distributive agency is performed in the spaces in between the human and non-human actors. Tools, stage direction, and behaviours are prototyped through fiction but enacted in a real forum, where they come into being with a slight ‘surprise of action’. Within emergent design discourse centred on the notion of ‘Design Fiction’ (Dunne and Raby 2001 and 2013; Bleecker 2009; Sterling 2009), the interplay between fiction and reality remains relatively simplistic and sometimes dangerously privileged (Prado de O. Martins 2014). The fiction functions as a way either to reflect upon, question, or critique the present or to inspire new ideas in the present through a form of ‘diegetic prototyping’ (Kirby 2009). However, the relationship is far more complex. A porous boundary is created, where fiction starts to mould and influence the real, pulsing at micro- and macro-scales of influence: ‘That’s the thing with design […] when something is materialised, it becomes real. I designed the badge, it wasn’t real until I was sent two hundred of them. The identity of the Union became a real thing, through the act of making’ (Byford 2014b). It is in this confluence of fiction and ‘vital materialism’ (Bennett 2010) that opportunities are unlocked for the post-disciplinary designer, and the dominant paradigm shifts from ‘designer as problem-solver’ towards ‘citizen sense-maker’ (Till 2009: 168).


6 W elsh Space Campaign. Final-year project. ­Hefin Jones (2013). (Photo: Geraint Morgan)

The Ethics of Participatory Speculation The second case study comes from Hefin Jones, whose final project, the Welsh Space Campaign (WSC), was first shown in June 2013 but has subsequently been developed and exhibited farther afield (Crafting Narrative 2014, The Future of Fashion is Now 2014). Jones started his project with a question: could a Welshman travel to outer space? From this simple beginning (a musing scribbled on a Post-it note), he designed a process of participatory engagement to allow local trade and crafts communities to engage in a cosmic imaginary. He set about designing and making a spacesuit using traditional (declining) Welsh crafts, and what began as a flight of the imagination emerged as a celebration of Welsh craft heritage (fig. 6). By engaging people in the possibility of interstellar travel, Jones created a mechanism for participatory speculation. Like Byford, Jones engaged in a different form of fiction-making. He eventually saw his project as an opportunity for community engagement and a way to reinvigorate dying industries, but initially he had a different aim: ‘I wanted to make it believable. This was one of the first ideas for the WSC: how can I trick my town [into believing] that I’ve been to outer space?’ (Jones 2014). The desire to ‘make believe’, to create a vision of a future that allows an audience to suspend their disbelief, is a common trope of CSD. However, we need to question the ethical implications of this tendency towards visual and conceptual trickery. The relationship between designer and audience (user) changes when a level of speculation and participation is introduced – when design no longer offers solutions to the acknowledged problems but instead questions their agency in the material world. The skills and sensitivities


needed to guide people through complex networks of opportunity and possibility are only just beginning to be understood. Jones is now working in a UK not-for-profit design-led social enterprise, where participatory work is key to innovation within the public sector. I asked how his understanding of participation had changed since graduation: ‘There’s a realization that participation is a very isolated event in the process of a project. I’m interested in questioning this; how do we make user engagement meaningful beyond a workshop or singular event?’ (Jones 2014). This highlights a key concern for the post-disciplinary designer: how do we engage and steer stakeholders without seeing them as a ‘resource’ or abandoning them once the funding runs out or the project ends? The WSC exemplifies a new conceptualisation of both speculation and participation, which begins to form a model of practice where the designer has a role akin to stewardship, where they ‘must be involved over the duration of change processes, providing constant expertise and feedback to identify, test, and deliver durable solutions’ (Helsinki Design Lab, n.d.).

Conclusion: Training for the Revolution In summary, I have sketched out an alternative approach to design education to meet the demands of a changing world, where distributive agency or vibrant matter offers an alternative role for design. No longer can we retreat behind the walls of ­disciplinary specialisms or abstract our practice to a series of Post-it notes. We are compelled, by our rapidly changing social, economic, and environmental context, to seize the transformational power of post-disciplinary practice. We need to devise new methods and processes for the manipulation and mastery of our ‘new material’, enabling us to prototype the changing political terrain. Through the case studies, I demonstrated how the function of fiction within the curriculum could build a safe space for exploration and experimentation, free from the risk of ridicule. It is through fiction as a pedagogic tool that we see the interplay between the imagined and the real. In order to parry the attack of ‘the real world’, we need to defend our fictional irrational worlds, building a logic of production that demonstrates value and potency. The attack of the real need not be an excuse for a lack of inventiveness in the methods that we deploy; to remain open to the opportunities of a redirected practice, we need to be light on our feet and not too precious with our methods. It is through the identification of new objects of design (action scripts, policy documents, organisational structures) that we will shift our practice and place within industry. In order to embrace the opportunities found within our contingent contexts, we need to be cognisant of the ethical implications of speculative participation and be attentive to the new responsibilities of the designer in the twenty-first century. If


The Hero’s Journey Segal (2007) notes that the entirety of myths is too diverse to be able to deduce fundamental action patterns. However, such patterns were identified for specific subgroups, in particular for hero-myths, for example by Campbell (1999), Propp (1986), Vogler (2007), and Raglan (1936). The pattern of the so-called hero’s journey is seen as an archetypical feature of most hero-myths. Its basic themes are constantly re-created in novels, films, or narratives. Campbell (1999, first edition 1949) pointed out that hero-myths followed an underlying pattern. Based on his work, the hero-myth structure has become influential in film and literature studies, as well as in counselling and team development. It is seen as a universal metaphor for development and change processes. Vogler (2007) has developed the principle of the hero’s journey in the context of scriptwriting. He understands the structure of the hero’s journey not only as a development tool for storytelling but also as a design principle for life itself (2007: xiii). For my purposes, the most interesting field for applying the hero’s journey is the field of coaching and strategic business consulting. In this context, we would have to mention, for example, Höcker’s ‘Business Hero’ concept (2010) or Trobisch’s Heldenprinzip® (Trobisch et al. 2012), where the basic pattern of the mythical hero’s journey is seen as a useful structure for adaptation in modern project management processes because it allows the inclusion of faculties such as emotion, creativity, and imagination that have received little attention so far (see, for example, Schildhauer, Trobisch, and Busch 2012).

Basic Phases of the Hero’s Journey Trobisch (Trobisch et al. 2012) describes the stages in the hero’s journey as universal phases of development and change processes, in which the external action is always linked to both interior process logic and emotional development. The hero’s journey experienced by the myths’ protagonists consists of the protagonist leaving his familiar environment and facing the challenges of an unknown world. As a consequence, the protagonist tries out new ways and embarks on an adventure that often takes him to his limits, both externally and internally. The journey begins with a calling (a call, a task, or a mission) causing the protagonist to leave home. The ­future hero enters a new world in which he must learn to master dangerous and ­unexpected situations and to overcome obstacles both large and small. During his journey, he faces many challenges and, by rising to them, develops and matures, eventually becoming a hero. The hero’s journey describes three acts as basic phases: the starting phase, in which the hero leaves his familiar environment (separation); the main phase, in which he changes during his adventurous journey (initiation);


and the final phase, in which he returns to his familiar environment after learning new things and successfully completing the test (return). Between these phases, there are two elementary transitions between the familiar world (first and third phases) and the unknown world (second phase). The following table describes the three phases, which I have complemented with models of classic dramatic structure: Author

1. Phase


2. Phase


Campbell (1999)




Vogler (2007)

Separation: decision to act

Descent, ­penetration: the action ­itself

Return: the consequences of the action

Trobisch (2012)






Höcker (2010)



New territory



Freytag (1872) Dramatic structure


Rising action


Falling action

Catastrophe or Lysis (Resolution)

Field (1993) The three-act structure



3. Phase


Table 2: Basic phases of the Hero’s Journey

Vogler (2007) has developed the elements of the hero’s journey especially for scriptwriting, and has also described very well the hero’s corresponding interior process. To complement his model, I have also included Trobisch’s Heldenprinzip® (Trobisch et al. 2012) and ‘The Hero’s Emotional Journey’ according to Palmer (2011). The Hero’s Journey Vogler (2007)

The Hero’s Inner Journey Vogler (2007)

Heldenprinzip: Compass for Innovation and Change Trobisch et al. (2012)

The Hero’s Emo­ tional Journey Palmer (2011)

1. Phase Ordinary World: the hero is seen in his/her everyday life.

Limited awareness of problem

Call to Adventure: the initiating event of the story

Increased awareness of need for change


Calling: the hero receives a call for change in his familiar world. Something is wrong, or new horizons are opening up.



Wolfgang Jonas  Sarah Zerwas  Kristof von Anshelm (Eds.)

Board of International Research in Design, BIRD

Advisory Board: Gui Bonsiepe Nigel Cross Alain Findeli Kun-Pyo Lee John Maeda Shutaro Mukai Pieter Jan Stappers Susann Vihma

The label “transformation design” was presented in the UK in 2006. It aimed at new means to make behaviour change and social change happen and to generate new forms of innovation. The human-centred approach was to be extended towards a society-centred one. The transformation concept goes back to anthropologist and sociologist Karl Paul Polanyi, who described the emergence of the almost unquestioned and meanwhile universal Western market logic in his 1944 book “The Great Transformation”. He called the transformation of ­societies with markets into market societies the “dis-embedding of the markets”. Leading think tanks refer to Polanyi and demand for a new social contract and the “re-em­ bedding” of the markets into society. Which are design’s potentials, instruments and contributions in this new “Great Transformation”? Questions, answers, theories, methods, ideas and projects are put forward. Their variety suggests that transformation design will probably not become a new category, but will remain a fuzzy discourse. We call it a placement, an ambitious value-based attitude towards designing. The book wants to encourage the international debate in favour of a more responsible design.

ISBN 978-3-0356-0636-2

Transformation Design

Can design contribute to the solution of big problems such as climate change, resource scarcity, poverty, etc.?

Transformation Design

Wolfgang Jonas  Sarah Zerwas  Kristof von Anshelm (Eds.)

Members: Michael Erlhoff Wolfgang Jonas Gesche Joost Claudia Mareis Ralf Michel

Board of International Research in Design, BIRD

Perspectives on a New Design Attitude

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