Victor Papanek, an early advocate of design’s social and ecological responsibilities, says in his book Green Imperative that
“These dangerous times for Earth call not just for passion, imagination, intelligence and hard work, but – more profoundly – a sense of optimism that is willing to act without a full understanding.” While science relies on facts and scientific prediction, design relies also on optimism and faith in the effect of small individual actions on the global picture.
I, for one, believe that Design is imperative in finding solutions that enable us, humans, to co-exist in harmony with nature and the biosphere.
Design is changing quickly, with the belief that a more respectful and joyous relationship with the material world can only be established by being an integral part of it. This heightened awareness moves design from a culture of “creating in the absence of limits” to a culture of “creating in a limited world.” This change of perspective currently underway in our society calls for a profound change in our relationship to the material and immaterial worlds and concerns everyone involved in design, production and consumption.
Design embraces the cross-fertilization of disciplines, of sensitive, forward-looking and crosscutting research likely to question the future of our contemporary society. Designers propose new approaches that are simultaneously sustainable, tangible and negotiable. They offer scenarios for change through heterogeneous projects, projections for the future, speculative gestures and technologically sophisticated ideas.
Design is an integrated discipline because it affects human experience directly — thinking, doing, experimenting and testing in recurrent iterations, without separating these activities. Industry with its search for performance and efficiency led to hyper-specialization and siloed processes designed for optimization; but these old siloed approaches to design, research and development are no longer adequate. The consequence has been a fragmented design approach, diminishing design’s value by disconnecting its great holistic and systemic promise.
Design as a bridge translates scientific ideas and discoveries into real-world applications. It is critical to enable design to imagine breakthrough models that revolutionize how we live, work and play.
Design is about convergence, with people and the world we live in, revealing the importance of investigating and proposing new approaches capable of revealing and affirming the need for increased connection between the living, animal and inanimate worlds when imagining sustainable and impactful scenarios.
When we talk about sustainable impact, we often refer to carbon footprint which represents the unintended negative consequences of our actions on the environment. When it is about our ecological handprint, we evaluate the things we do which create positive changes in the environment. Design should aim to rebalance our ecosystems, forming new attitudes, encouraging changing behaviors, regenerating local know-how and scientific knowledge to reinvent our habitat and explore ways to bring our mental and physical health and well-being into alignment.
Creating sustainable experiences is a complex process requiring a diversity of knowledge and expertise. It is about optimizing current operations by connecting the dots between people, ideas and data inside and outside a company and society. It is also about having knowledge and expertise readily available – on demand – enabling people to work better and more efficiently.
With digitalization, we can imagine new models to test and simulate and then optimize, in a virtuous iterative process to ensure the quality of a proposal that operations will run efficiently. By creating and virtually sharing all knowledge at our disposal in real time, while being inclusive in the gathering of different mindsets and open to all contributions, we make innovation meaningful. We can reduce risk, cost, waste, and trial and error, getting it right the first time and then doing it again for further advances.
The learning from previous iterations may serve out-of-the-box scenarios, building rationality into new proposals in a convergence of practice and knowledge. Working together in the same virtual design space will prepare future contributors for the transformative vision, establishing a common roadmap for critical, impactful decision making.
With greater knowledge of science, and a better understanding of how things work, design can emulate certain properties and efficiencies found in nature, physics and materials. To guide systemic approaches, structural applications could be generated from algorithms. For salvage and regeneration efforts, the full cycle-of- life and nature‘s processes, such as using plastics and other pollutants as a resource and new materials for creating product proposals, may be simulated with new models aimed at eradicating waste.
Avoiding waste, by converging both scientific research on alternative biomaterials and redefining available raw materials, opens up new perspectives for design. These new concepts add creative potential and diversity, transforming apparent waste materials into resources that can redefine our future habitat.
It is human nature to discover and understand, to question the world we live in. If science is discovering the means to access the world, design creates the living conditions – our preferences – of how we inhabit the world.
The possibilities of what we can envision to sustain, repair and regenerate our world, as we harmonize product, nature and life, are in the convergence of knowledge and know-how. With design, we elevate and materialize our priorities and ultimately choose the future we want for ourselves and our planet.
Join me and designers from around the world at Dassault Systemes’ Design in the Age of Experience event during Milan Design Week, April 19-26, 2020.