You mentioned facilitation and coordinating of groups…it’s true that it’s something which designers can maybe bring to the table, but it’s also true that there are people out there who are very deeply expert in that who are making that their special subject. They understand that it’s not enough just to have a multidisciplinary or mixed group of people in a community setting that are going to do something together. There are certain skills and techniques that you can learn, ranging from empathy to what sort of coffee to serve, which makes groups go better. It may be one of the things that I think designers with others, can bring, but they don’t have any historical expertise on that. Which is me saying I think there’s a lot out there, but you need to be precise about what are the skills that designers have to contribute. Then it begins to narrow it down from this otherwise very huge cloud of possibilities. The other thing that designers are always saying is, “Well we’re really good at kind of connecting and being multidisciplinary,” which is kind of partly true. But then so is everybody else. Many of the projects that inspire me in my life are projects which have developed and grown very lively without any participation of designers or experts—generally they just have a group of people who are responding to a need or opportunity and they say, “Yeah, lets do something about it.” Then they do it! JA: Yes, absolutely. I wanted to ask you a little bit more about facilitation. I worked on a program for several years, before I came back to school, about dialogue. And I hear so much, in the way that you’re talking about an approach to design that feels, from my understanding, like a dialogic approach. I was curious, there’s several people you mention in your book who we’re just are big fans of, like Ivan Illich. I was curious if you’ve read any David Bohm?
JT: I have not, because I saw his name in your email, and I’ve heard his name before. Is that what he does? Is he a dialogic person?
I don’t think you find communities
JA: Bohm was a physicist, a very well respected physicist. In the latter part of his career he started thinking about how the only way new ideas could emerge is if you could bring people together in conversation. So then he wound up doing all this writing on that. I love it because it has that sort of science link in it, as well. His seminal book is called “On Dialogue.” He’s just excellent. It’s really where I started thinking about this idea of designer as facilitator, because again, a lot of the ways you talk about it sound like the way he talks about—you know, why get people in a room and get them talking in the first place, and when you do, what can you do that will allow for new insights to emerge from that collective?
having deep thoughts in the bath.
JT: Right. I mean you’re describing it very well. I just would observe that there are other people who—it’s not like—you know it goes back thousands of years. Buber for instance is a great theologian who has a whole kind of history of writing about the nature of encounter and nature of conversation, which is important. And there’s a man called Theodore Zeldin, who’s still alive. Have you come across him? There’s also a project called “The Muse,” which is all about the designing and the shaping of conversations and encounters. He’s one of those people—I haven’t actually met him, but he’s very celebrated as somebody who thinks and practices very deeply about this exact subject, how you actually enable people to have conversations that are valuable for all parties. I think that those sorts of things very much, to me, shine up the limitations of what designers do. You must’ve encountered
by looking up yellow pages or You need to say, “What’s happening in my environment?” In particular, to look for people who have positive energy around a subject, and say go to the place where there’s activity on the ground.
Published on Jul 1, 2011