Design for this Century – UX Planet
Fragments for designing the 22nd century
This article is a digest of the contents of “Design For This Century,” which is an omnibus course organized by Parsons School of Design and Columbia University. I took this cross-border course and write it down not to forgot my new “lens” of design I’ve learned. Well-known designers, geographers, futurists, philosophers, and anthropologists suggested keywords and concepts toward the 22nd century. Since there are broad topics, I would appreciate it if you would “feel” rather than ponder deeply.
The first lecture started with capturing the act of “seeing” critically. In the 18th century, British philosopher Jeremy Bentham envisioned the system of control called Panopticon. It encourages prisoners to discipline themselves by making them aware of being “always observed.”
French philosopher Michel Foucault used panopticon as a metaphor of surveillance society and criticized that the supervised environment confines personal independence in the book Discipline and Punish. In other words, a relation of authority appears between the person who monitors and the person who is monitored.
This is the same in the digital surveillance society in the 21st century. We are always in the surveillance environment on social media, and people are concerned about what they want to show and how they want to be seen. Designers in the 21st century create this power balance of seeing and to be seen.
Monitoring also becomes capital. The business model of Google and Facebook is monitoring, storing, patterning, and selling our behaviors from the usage of their services. Each designer needs to think about how we will approach the theme of the surveillance society.
Some designers have created critical works to escape from the surveillance society. Adam Harvey’s “CV Dazzle” is a makeup technique that protects privacy by preventing face recognition.
Signifiant and signifié, defined by the Swiss linguist Saussure, teach that everything has both aspects of a signifier and a signified. When we usually see text, music, and images, the thing itself is only a symbol. Our arbitrary interpretation makes sense. As a designer, we should always ask if we create a symbol, a meaning, a signified, or a signifier.
The ontological design proposed by the anthropologist Escobar in “Designs for the Pluriverse” shows the way of pluriversal co-creation. In short, everything that we design in turn designs us back.
Therefore, instead of futuring: commercial, modern, and functional design, let’s do de-futuring: design to return to humanity, co-creation for people and the environment, and remaining dynamic equilibrium of all things in nature. Because the design responds to us.
It may be a concept of Zen. Everything in the world is connected “as it is”, and there is no boundary or center between humans, non-humans, animals, and the environment.
Surprisingly, in the “Cyborg Manifesto” published in 1985, Donna Haraway advocates bold propositions such as dehumanization and desexuality.
The non-naturalistic view of human beings that “modern people have become cyborg: a mixture of machines and organisms” comes to us again in the 21st century. We are doctrinally seized with “user-centered” and “human-centered” design, but should we continue to follow this concept in the 21st century design? Isn’t it essential to have an attitude to speculate beyond “human-centered” design?
The story of the 20th century had an author, had been broadcasted from a particular station, and we enjoyed content sent from a centralized distributor. However, when we look at Minecraft, YouTube, Twitch, and so on, each individual broadcasts their own story and has their own audience. There is no center of the story in the 21st century. Perhaps there is something similar in secondary creation and coterie magazine culture. It will be popular for stories to be created, distributed, mutated, and inherited from generation to generation. The storytelling of Homestuck is like a microcosm.
So far, we have talked about various decentralized, transdisciplinary, and totalitarian designs. What about universal design and inclusive design? It’s an excellent idea, but it’s hard to say that there is no boundary between healthy people and non-healthy people. Instead of perceiving as “disabled” people, we can call people of “differently-abled.”
American social designer Paul Falzone broadcasts NewzBeat, the world’s most unique news that delivers news on raps in Uganda, Africa, to raise youth’s interest in politics and society. This attempt succeeded in acquiring the younger generation, and now the broadcasting area has expanded to three African countries.
Instead of mass-produced and ready-made products, the grassroots design that is closely tied to the location, place-based community, and people will change society and the country. To do this type of design, we need to live in the place, learn about the indigenous culture, build small participatory prototypes over and over with local users.
Governments are starting to communicate with citizens and create services and policies together. It was an innovative event that the UK Policy Lab was established under the UK Cabinet Office in 2014 to brings open and people-centered design approaches to policy-making.
In October 2017, an organization dedicated to civic service design was established directly under the New York State, and full-time designers have been working on solving the city’s problems. They open their tools and methodologies in public and organize a system to solve problems with citizens.
As the Gamergate controversy show, games change its meaning with society and have the power to move the organization. In western countries, there is no difference in the sex ratio of gamers and game company employees. Therefore, various complaints and discussions have emerged regarding expressions of male and female characters. Mattie Brice positively critiques the world using these immersive and powerful capabilities of the game and encourages everyone to participate and envision future Utopia.
Benjamin Bratton, the author of the book “The Stack,” reminds us that there are a global network and mega-infrastructure behind the experience that we usually search something in Apps and receive results that in less than a second. He has proposed this planetary and comprehensive computing network as a six-tiered stack: User, Interface, Address, City, Cloud, and Earth.
He recently announced that the planetary-scale speculative design program “The Terraforming Education Programme” as a director of Strelka Institute, Russia. Which planetary layer and geopolitics should we design in the 21st century?
Geographer and anthropologist Stephanie Wakefield mentions that the Earth and human history are repeating a large loop as shown below, on a global history scale and now coming to the Anthropocene. This loop consists of a front loop (prosperity/preservation) and a back loop (release/reconstruction). The interglacial and glacial cycles, the time when dinosaurs flourished, and human civilization are all in the “loops.”
Among in the loop, we are now in the back loop, not the front loop. It means that the stage of dramatic prosperity and progress has been completed until nowadays. Therefore, what we should consider in this century is not how we will keep the prosperity accumulated so far, but how we will change. We have no choice but to change our way of thinking and sense of value because we are not on a front loop anymore. The back loop is not a period of decline, but an opportunity to find a new and next front loop.
The future scholar Ed Keller, who teaches “Post-Planetary Design” at Parsons, organizes four world scenarios after 1000 years from the perspective of sociology, geopolitics, and biology. They are Neutral Cosmopolitics, Dark Cosmopolitics, Orthogonal Cosmopolitics, and Empathic Cosmopolitics. Although there are small differences in the taste of the future, what must be considered for the future is dynamic equilibrium on a planetary scale.
From the individual level to the organization and the earth level, I listed the keywords and essences of design for the future in various granularities. Not only designers but also all businesspersons need interdisciplinary cultivation to tackle current planetary-scale problems.
Personally, I think designers in the 21st century must deal with the super-comprehensive realm where all academic disciplines and technologies are included. Problems we must solve, such as climate change and social inequality, can no longer be solved by a single discipline. All boundaries of not only gender, culture, and physical characteristics of people, but also human and non-human, human and the environment, human and machines, will merge and disappear. We should design the worldview that everything is interdependent as it is. Such a future may be one utopian scenario towards the 22nd century.
Design for This Century 2018 Credits
- 9/6 Vision, Representation and Power (Melanie Crean)
- 9/13 Co-design (Marisa Morán Jahn)
- 9/20 Challenging narratives of ability & disability (Alice Sheppard)
- 9/27 Indigenous culture, media & creative resistance (Amelia Winger Bearskin)
- 10/4 Gender violence, pop culture, resistance (Ram Devineni)
- 10/11 Diving Utopias Through Play (Mattie Brice)
- 10/18 Civic service design (Ariel Kennan)
- 10/25 Machine vision and surveillance capitalism (Melanie Crean)
- 11/1 Local to global infrastructure (Marisa Jahn)
- 11/8 Migration and transmedia (Lina Srivastava)
- 11/15 Algorithmic democracy, Big data, Machine Bias (Melanie Crean)
- 11/29 Ecology, resilience & the backloop (Stephanie Wakefield)
- 12/6 User testing across cultures (Paul Falzone)
- 12/13 Post-planetary Design (Ed Keller)