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Los mundos que revelamos a través del diseño

Los mundos que revelamos a través del diseño 2560 1707 markeloptah
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Una sobremesa-reflexión alrededor de la politización en la práctica del diseño local

Han pasado ya más de dos décadas desde la muerte de Victor Papanek. Es habitual escuchar que el tiempo (y la historia) pone a cada cual en su lugar. Resulta paradójico, cuanto menos,  que su lugar en la historia (a menos en la del diseño) y uno de sus legados teóricos más importantes para las diseñadoras de nuestra generación es la constatación del necropoder del diseño.  Ya el prefacio del celebrado “Design for the Real World” (1971) adelanta irónicamente que, en palabras del mismo Papanek, “hay profesiones más dañinas que el diseño industrial, pero muy pocas”. Es precisamente esta afirmación, entre la boutade y el catecismo, la que comienza en la década de los setenta a poner de relieve la profunda dimensión política del diseño.  Buena parte de la carrera de Papanek se articula alrededor de demostrar y demostrarse que no sólo es posible reducir el impacto negativo del diseño sino que este puede ser también una palanca de cambio ideal para revelar mundos más justos.

Cincuenta años más tarde y en un contexto de crisis multidimensional a una escala inaudita que está comprometiendo los sistemas biológicos que dan soporte a la vida en la tierra todavía nos preguntamos si esto es posible. Al menos en en una escala temporal humana. Frente a esta situación que pudiera resultar paralizadora el diseño, como cultura proyectual y del hacer, ofrece un islote de coraje y “optimismo cascarrabias” en palabras de la académica y diseñadora Terry Irwin. En último término el diseño se articula como una cultura de la  intencionalidad sea esta explícita y deliberada o no. Todo el diseño es política. Las prácticas acríticas del diseño constituyen un mecanismo de reproducción del status-quo y de los sistemas que devienen, entre otras, en la emergencia climática en la que navegamos.  

Frente a este diseño colaboracionista y al que se presenta en oposición dialéctica vemos el embrión, en gestación participada por ente otros Papanek, de un diseño propositivo para la transición. Uno  que dé cabida a imaginaciones de futuro alternativas y que sea capaz de articularlas. Es este proceso de materialización y proyección en el que la práctica del diseño se desarrolla a sus anchas como mediador de la materialidad de la vida cotidiana de buena parte de la población.  Como tal, el diseño y las personas que diseñan, tienen un lugar relevante en el proceso social de revelar mundos: un proceso político. 

El pensamiento y la mirada crítica e interseccional han evolucionado mucho en las últimas décadas permitiéndonos entender que donde Papanek hablaba del “mundo real” quizás queda hueco para muchos plurales. Que quizás, tal y como abogan entre otras Arturo Escobar, Luiza PardoAnja Neidhardt o Sasha Costanza-Chock, el diseño deba estar al servicio del desvelamiento de un pluriverso más allá de lo humano. 

Después de algunos años cuestionandonos estas preguntas y tratando de ser intencionales en nuestra práctica, tanto interna como colectivo como externa a través de nuestro trabajo, desde HOLON decidimos explicitar nuestras posturas en un artículo y compartir así con el mundo las maneras en las que en este momento materializamos nuestra mirada crítica de la realidad. #worldswemake es una invitación abierta a la comunidad del diseño para explorar colectivamente estas miradas y crear espacio para el surgimiento y canalización de conversaciones críticas que, hasta el momento, han tenido lugar de forma dispersa. La apuesta del proyecto es la de no sólo sacarlas a la luz y compartirlas sino entender las implicaciones que estas tienen con el resto de dimensiones de la actividad de un estudio o colectivo de diseño.

Tradicionalmente se ha entendido la politización del diseño a través del compromiso con respecto a lo que ponemos-en-el-mundo, sea esto una comunicación, un nuevo producto, un servicio/experiencia o un nuevo modelo organizativo. Desde que Papanek desarrollara su trabajo han emergido diferentes lentes con las que mirar nuestra práctica e integrar una perspectiva feminista, de reducción del impacto ambiental (ecodiseño), atenta a la diversidad y a la generación de valor social… Algunas organizaciones vinculadas al diseño  también han venido integrando políticas internas de trabajo alineadas con esta mirada en las contrataciones y compras, en la gestión de personas, en la adquisición de clientes o en la planificación estratégica.   

Uno de las propuestas de #worldswemake es entender la dimensión relacional de estas posturas, es decir, como se enmarañan las consecuencias de nuestros posicionamientos políticos. Por ejemplo, ¿Cómo influyen nuestros criterios éticos a la hora de seleccionar con qué clientes queremos trabajar en la estructura salarial y económica de mi organización, en el estilo de vida que puedo/quiero acarrear o en mi posibilidad de generar estrategia a largo plazo? ¿Cómo nuestra cosmovisión se articula en las herramientas, métodos y procesos que utilizamos en nuestro día a día?

El pasado 3 de diciembre, en el marco de la exposición “La política del diseño”, tuvo lugar un encuentro que congregó a veinte personas vinculadas al diseño en Barcelona y Cataluña para compartir en torno a una comida las formas prácticas en las que integramos en nuestro día a día la reflexión política y las miradas críticas sobre la realidad. En el encuentro participaron personas de, entre otros colectivos: Lacol, l’Apostrof, Curro Claret, We Question Our Project, Inèdit, Òscar Guayabero, Guifi.net, Alehop! COdisseny , Liquen Data Lab, Decidim, Becoming, Taller Esfèrica, Diambaar, La Casa de Carlota, Makea tu Vida y Oblicuas.

 Además de compartir recursos y prácticas la sobremesa dio espacio para abrir varias conversaciones orbitando alrededor de, entre otros temas:

  • ¿Quién financia el trabajo más comprometido? Crítica de Papanek y su dependencia de la administración y academia.
  • Balances entre carteras de clientes de contratación privada y pública. Limitaciones inherentes tanto burocráticas como dimensionales de trabajar con lo público.
  • Estructuras organizativas óptimas y balances entre flexibilidad y precarización del trabajo.
  • Criterios a la hora de decidir si trabajar o no con un cliente y los equilibrios inestables entre las limitaciones de la moral estricta y las posibilidad de gran impacto en la realidad.
  • El desdibuje progresivo entre las vidas profesionales y personales.

La jornada fue muy bien acogida por los profesionales asistentes sembrando una primera toma de contacto y el embrión de una comunidad por nacer. Un conjunto de personas vinculadas al mundo del diseño aprendiendo juntas cómo introducir intencionalidad en nuestros acercamientos políticos desde la profesión y, de una forma u otra, mantener vivo y actualizado el legado que nos dejó Victor Papanek.

Sowing a garden for a healthy performing arts ecosystem

Sowing a garden for a healthy performing arts ecosystem 2560 1701 markeloptah
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Last December we got invited to facilitate a session in our hometown involving Baratza, an independent theatre, and its surrounding community. Baratza (vegetable garden in Basque) was born 6 years ago with the intention of being an active agent in the contemporization of performing arts in Vitoria-Gasteiz. Since then it has actively engaged with cultural, artistic and civil organizations in the city in several projects regarding education, cultural programmation and artistic support for creators. After these years a little bit of the initial energy and focus has been lost in the process. Moreover, the ecosystem has evolved as so has Baratza’s potential users and audiences. During the last months they have been realizing and effort to mediate and attract new people to the room but these efforts are yet scattered.

In the context of the celebration of its anniversary, we were invited to facilitate a session involving various actor from the ecosystem such as: civil servants, creators, audiences, staff… The facilitation proposal was orbiting around two important elements:

  • A narrative metaphor regarding the care of a vegetable garden and the health of soil and, generally, the ecosystem in which is embedded. This narrative vehicle helped workout some future guidelines for Baratza’s strategy from an ecosystemic perspective. For doing so we used the panarchycal framework and the life cycle of a project as the basic unit. We used some of the notes and tips offered by Liberating Structures materials.
  • The use of performing elements as well as environments. The workshop was celebrated in one of the rooms used as a theatrical stage. A lot of attention was paid to keep the scenic aesthetics in lights, space distribution, music… For setting up a final presentation of the scenarios developed in the session we suggested the use of a “lambe-lambe” miniature theatre set-up. This last element was not heavily used due to the lack of time.

Agenda for the session

12.00 – Ice breaking games

12.20 – Presentation of the agenda and the ecological cycle.

Relationship with natural cycles. Creative destruction. Feeling what is about to be born. Letting go of what is already of no use to us. Creative process.

12.30 – Facilitating the dynamics: maintain, grow, destroy, be born…

We will create some profiles of people (creator, producer, neighbour of the neighbourhood, neighbour of Vitoria, political/cultural). Current needs will be identified and latents from which the model will be filled with actions and interventions. In order to sort out the proposals the elements that must take part in a healthy ecosystem (entities, relationships, resources, knowledge…).

13.15 – Baratza 2022 – Elaboration of everyday life situations involving future Baratza.

Each group will take one or more actions and images of the Baratza that is about to be born and will materialize it in a particular everyday situation that will design, create and will be staged in the Lambé Theatre in the middle of the room.

13.45 – Presentation of scenes at the public and closure

Collective presentation and open space about what each has to contribute to those scenarios.

Some of the results and conversations

Industry Paradoxes. Need for freedom and flexible and emerging creative processes but dependence on public sector funding which is governed by particular tempos and cycles and needs of control and reliability by the creators.

How can we leave the necessary space-time but still ensure a timely harvest?

The need to nurture creative communities and act as such. Re-weave networks and put in value those connections. To make the metaphor of the orchard a mark of Baratza’s work in the creative ecosystem.

How do we rethink our role as community weavers?

The need for updating and access to different publics that the room usually accommodates. Finding ways to access the most young people from their languages without losing the essence of Baratza. We can’t try to cater to new audiences from the vantage point of the past.

How do you learn to let go and make room for new coming, with its new forms, codes and practices?

The apparent paradox between artistic realization and offer a cultural product accessible to a majority.

How to generate cultural experiences that evolve with the understanding, trust and experience of the public? How to find joint maturation processes between the works and the public?

The connection to the neighborhood remains a non resolved issue. There is a desire to articulate it but lack the energy or the channels to do so. Energy is a scarce commodity. It was widely discussed where to put the energies. A very intensive event in terms of investment in a short time or a more leisurely performance and distributed over time.

What other ecosystems or energies already present in the neighborhood could be symbiotic with the ones we want to nurture in Baratza?

Search for hybridization spaces and contexts with other practices or complementary knowledge. Public institutions, academic institutions, companies, organized civil society, etc.

How could we give away our knowledge and know-how to other orchards and/or other professions?

Design overtables: The worlds we make

Design overtables: The worlds we make 1140 822 markeloptah
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Several decades have passed after the bold declaration from Victor Papanek of Design as a political endeavour with potential deadly consequences. It was his one of the first voices to point out our responsibility as designers in mediating the everyday life of people by giving form to tools, technologies, interfaces… Nevertheless in a historical moment that claims for new imaginations and imaginaries a big portion of design is still sustaining the structures and practices that led us here. While Papaneks’ main concerns were environmental and development based, during these past years the critique of design has included an intersectional logic including feminist, decolonising, diversity (race, abilities…) or post-capitalistic perspectives that have contributed to actualize and broaden Papanek’s vision. 

Today, Barcelona’s design ecosystem holds varied interesting visions and practices in realizing the political qualities of design. That’s why, in the context of Papanek’s exhibition in Barcelona Design Museum we were asked to organise an event to further share between collectives and individuals concrete practices, tools and approaches. This event coincides with a collective reflection we’ve been pursuing around the worlds we make. Throughout this time intentionality has been a key idea to reflect upon. As designers we contribute giving form to worlds either creating new frames or normalising/confronting already existing ones. We do so not only by the “things” we help be born but also by holding a particular worldview, sharing a particular vision for the future or orchestrating our individual and collective agencies. 

All these questions were explored in an article and synthesized in the map bellow.

Last week we had the chance to organise a new event which, by now, we are calling Design Overtables in which a long meal is served and a discussion is nurtured around different topics surrounding design today. In the first edition we were lucky enough to count with the support of Barcelona Design Museum and the participation of interesting and relevant individuals and collectives from the city.

The main frame for this conversation was around the practical ways that we integrate critical-political standpoints in our everyday life as designers. All along the meal several focal points were set around which conversations started to orbitate. Hereafter there are some possible threads to keep pulling: 

  • From production to reproduction and care logic. In HOLON we have reflected about what it means to us. Personal and professional is intertwined. Personal values, visions and ethics are developed interpersonally, so is a collective endeavour. Organizations and collectives are social technologies that serve to coordinate action towards specific visions.  Is not only what we create and how we do it (our practice) but also what’s our vision of the world and worldview, how do we understand our agency and roles in realizing them, how do we internally organize and operate and how does everything suit into our lifestyle.
  • Exploring the infinite shades of grey. Many strategies and positions are available in the context of systemic change. Escaping dogmatism is sometimes difficult. Real life and survival many times prevails. Between full collaborationism with power structures and unquestionable integrity there’s a full range of option worth exploring.
  • Who sustains and funds sustainable innovation/design? Reviewing Papanek’s work it can be understood that much of his work was funded both by education and development institutions (such as UN). Same things applies to much of the work from politically situated agents in Barcelona. Still public administrations is funding and conditioning much of the work done. Which dynamic does this bring? How other context could be possible? 
     
  • Everyday life as a battlefield for system change. Design can be a leverage for both defining better suited lifestyles and defining macro-level interventions (such as in the case of policy design). Following the economic theories developed by Carlota Perez’s in her work around economic cycles and breakthroughs, design could again be a leverage to a deployment period followed by new values, norms and lifestyles.

Some of the conversations that happened during the event will be materialized in a future article and open public presentation that will be held with the closing event from the exhibition.

TAZ: exploring emerging scenarios through performative fiction

TAZ: exploring emerging scenarios through performative fiction 1536 1024 markeloptah
Reading Time: 4 minutes

It’s been a while since the last time I wrote about my final project process. During the past weeks I have been trying to take action and get out of the theorizing loop. This is one of the main learnings I am doing process-wise. I tend to get too hooked up into the process of  meaning making and theoretical scaffolding. Funny that one of the most repeated advice that I give to students while tutoring final projects is difficult to me to overcome. That’s why I am trying to bring into the world different actions and pre-totypes in order to explore, from different contexts and grammars, the dimensions of my research topic.

As I already summarized in a previous entry to this blog, I am exploring the possibilities of developing alternative aesthetics and politics of self-organization in social systems. Last month I found an open call from an emerging artists art congress in Vitoria-Gasteiz around the art of the future and the future of art and decided to apply. One of the hypothesis we’ve working with in the Performing Transitions research work is that inoculating bodily practices into art and design could set a richer, deeper and more meaningful arena for exploring alternative imaginaries of the future. That’s why, given the topic of the congress, decided to test the hypothesis through performative action and, incidentally, explore some of the topics of my project. 

Along the research phase I have been exploring different frameworks, tools, concepts and practices around political participation and decision making. One of the ideas that popped out couple of time was that of Sortition, or randomized democracy. Although it’s a pretty old idea (already put into practice, among others, in old Greece and also in different present experiences such as in Canada, Ireland, Iceland…) it has gained some recent momentum given the exceptional times we are living. Paradoxically the congress coincided with the opening of the COP 25, one of the living examples of the inability of political power structures to deal with the complexity of climate change by bringing forward the radical action needed to confront climate change. 

The main goal of the action was not too much to explore the pitfalls and potentialities of sortition but to explore arts as a medium to prefigure potential presents/futures. It was a pretty short action but already brought some interesting learnings around how to design this interventions (many of them informed by the prolific history of LARP movement around the world). 

The action

TAZ (Temporarily Autonomous Zone) is an action-exploration of the potentialities of embodied intelligence (mind-body-space) and performance as a support for citizen futurization practices. In a historical and social moment of «slow cancellation of the future», in which the climate and socio-economic model crises highlight our inability to socially imagine alternatives to the official future, we want to reaffirm the potential of art to foreshadow emerging futures. 

The history of art (and magic), as a third space alongside science and religion, has left us an infinite number of fictions, some of which have been politically sublimated as our current realities. It is precisely the enchantment of art that, through the suspension of disbelief, activates the narrative, political and economic machinery capable of crystallizing these fictions. Because of this, the control of the imaginative (or narcotic) force that art supposes has been a battle horse through which power has tried to sustain its self-fulfilling narratives and prophecies. The neoliberal project and its rhetoric anchored in the technoutopian and singularist myth perfectly exemplifies this force of colonization of our imaginaries. 

Today more than ever we need to reoccupy the space of art in order to confront the disfiguring processes in the making through social learning and a resituation of art in everyday life that allows us to be better equipped to imagine and prefigure worlds that are worth living. In the face of the great totalising narratives that try to turn the map into territory, we believe it necessary to explore the immense folded extensions of the map. Transit the possible eutopias. However, the reconquest of these mechanisms at the service of the common good must also imply an overcoming of logocentrism in which somatic and performative practice as well as incarnated and interpersonal forms of understanding reality are configured as new centres from which to think about ourselves. 

This intervention is part of an ongoing research led by HOLON which, since 2018, has been running an action research laboratory called Performing Transitions (PT) to explore the potential of art to participate in the much-needed socio-technical transitions we face as a civilization.

PT interweaves embodied intelligences, somatic practice, performance and play with design and art to offer a critique of the present from multiple points of view in the imagination and action of history(s), present(s) and future(s). The project aims to consolidate and produce knowledge in the complementary but often contradictory behavioural, social, technological, political and cultural developments to inspire and stimulate collective and individual agency towards preferable visions of socio-economic and cultural transitions. PT presents us with the opportunity to play in the dark and embrace the unknown. It provides us with a means to explore new frontiers of performance, collective imagination, mythology and worldviews that illuminate the transition paths to alternative and more sustainable futures.

Elements in place

  • Narrative elements: narrated contextualization of the situation through music and written text.
  • Character-role exploration: we used an adaptation of Jung’s archetype both as a playing element and a critique of the simplification that can entail a poor/bad/superficial social group representational strategy in sortition processes.
  • Video animation: representation of power structures and agency using the urban infrastructure as a visual metaphor and irony.
  • Randomness and power of the algorithm: using bingo game as a cultural icon.

Systemic design course

Systemic design course 1810 1357 markeloptah
Reading Time: < 1 minute

Back to work after my trip to the US west coast I have been leading a course around systemic design at IED Barcelona.

Here some of the materials I have been using.

 
 

Algo-rythms. Further developing the moving communities workshop.

Algo-rythms. Further developing the moving communities workshop. 1707 1238 markeloptah
Reading Time: 2 minutes

Coding algorithms are a set of computational rules that govern informatic programs. Autonomous agents is a coding concept that refers to any entity that makes its own choices about how to act in its environment without any influence from a leader or global plan. 

Three key concepts:

  • An autonomous agent has a limited ability to perceive environment
  • An autonomous agent processes the information from its environment and calculates an action.
  • An autonomous agent has no leader. 

Live matter and being could be conceptualized as autonomous agents governed by a set of rules that generate emerging behaviours such as swarming.

In the case of swarming, the behaviour was conceptualized by The boids computer program created by Craig Reynolds in 1986. Among others these are some of the rules that conform that behaviour:

  1. separation: steer to avoid crowding local flockmates
  2. alignment: steer towards the average heading of local flockmates
  3. cohesion: steer to move towards the average position (center of mass) of local flockmates

In the other hand a great amount of contemporary dance and physical theatre practice and teaching is based upon the layering of specific tasks and rules froma an external eye that may provoke emergent behaviour to happen. The role of the “director” in this case is 1. setting of tasks and  2. curating the generated material.

Research questions: 

What if we could use algorithmic rules as tasks in a dance-theatre setting?

Which result might we get?

How this could inform both performing arts and generative art? 

In the context of our exploration of the interface between performing arts, design, futuring and social transformation, in august 2019 we developed a workshop which took place in Ávila which main goal was to use the body as a means to reflection around some ideas orbiting around the concept of community. The initial structure of the workshop can be consulted here.

Some of the ideas of this workshop were taken from both HOLON’s research around performing transitions and Rachel’s personal work exploring the qualities and implications of swarm behaviour.

This research statement sets a new possible exploration line for future replications of the workshop and hopes to set an open conversation with other designers, artists and so on.

An implementation of the boids program can be explored here:

[Bonus ]

Some artist exploring algorithmic choreography: https://arts.vcu.edu/kineticimaging/faculty/kate-sicchio/

I did something for africa. Speculative Design summer school.

I did something for africa. Speculative Design summer school. 2361 1875 markeloptah
Reading Time: 9 minutes

[Disclaimer: this is a live article in edition. Take this notes as the backbone of what will be an article about my outcomes and experience in Speculative.edu summer school]

Futures design and my practice

During the first week of september I got to be invited to a summer school about Speculative Design (SD) in rurality. The summer school, hosted in RUFA and led by HER and Ruralhack, was part of a european project called speculativeedu. Its scope is to collect, exchange, reflect upon, develop, and advance educational practice in the area of speculative design and its self-critical approach. The project is participated by some of the most active and relevant individuals, institutions and research collectives in the SD space around europe. Among others: University of Split, Goldsmiths, Madeira Interactive Technologies Institute, Napier University and Institute for Transmedia Design.

Along the last years of my work and practice as a designer engaged in transitions towards sustainable futures I have been drawn to futures studies and practices. Sustainability and design interphase has, since the beginning of the field, being infused by them. Strategic management, scenario planning, technologic speculation, backcasting, forecasting, future prototyping… are all part of the usual sustainable designer mindset and toolkit. Moreover, “visions for the future” and “theories of change” are two of the conforming elements of Transition Design as an emerging field. Design, by definition, is a future oriented and speculative practice as Cameron Tonkinwise puts it. 

“Designing that does not already Future, Fiction, Speculate, Criticize, Provoke, Discourse, Interrogate, Probe, Play, is inadequate designing.”

Throughout the last years I have actively added specific knowledge, concepts, tools and notions from the growing field of futures design (even though this concept is still discussed in the community) by exploring the writing-making and engaging with some of the leading figures in speculative design, design fiction, transition design and critical design. Back in 2018 I participated in a summer school organized by the Centre for Postnormal Policy & Policy Studies and Blanquerna University about future studies. Some of my notes and takes from the school can be checked here.

All these learnings have been introduced in several of my latest transitional projects in inèdit. Specially on those focused on sectoral level transition toward more sustainable futures. Such is the case of the multiyear and multiagent process which I co-facilitated about logistics and about urban transportation.

Futures of last mile logistics (work for Laboratorio Ecoinnovación)

In addition to these projects several future oriented practices such us future prop and scenario prototyping has constituted part of my daily toolbox as designer. I have engaged with them in several different contexts (educational, consulting work, cultural/art…) and industries. Such is the case of the the strategic exploration we facilitated with SEAT for exploring new roles of automotive OEMs in the context of Mobility as a Service in a circular economy.

Scenario prototyping (work for SEAT)

Once immersed in my gap year, SD started to track more and more of my attention. Part of the foundations of this open program is about generating impact, about transforming myself while transforming my relationship to the world(s). There’s many things to get fixed out there. We are living in an age of colliding crisis one of which is a crisis of imaginaction. In these spheres our inability to imagine alternatives has become almost a mantra. Although is worth to continue developing new imaginaries I believe there’s already a great amount of them, just not evenly broadcasted.

In an era of “slow cancellation of the future” social imaginaries of what’s possible, desirable and probable are being colonized by the totalizing narrative of capitalism. We are in need, then, of new and mobilizing narratives and potential complex states of the system as much as of infrastructures for action and transformation. SD offers interesting insights as well as an enactive quality of engaging bodily with alternative futures. After all that performative quality, although not present in every practitioner,  is what brought me to SD.

Approach of the workshop

As a practice there are many different approaches to SD depending on the elements each process stresses more. There’s some practitioners putting a variable emphasis on the object and its affordances, the interaction, the narrative aspects, the exhibition, the dialog derived… The introduction lectures on the first day made it clear that the approach for the workshop was meant to be semio-narrative one. The choice of selecting different global and uneven locations also made clear a place-based approach. 

Quote from Umberto Eco

The brief handed to us included the setting up of an exhibition on the last day of the workshop which ought to be populated by several props describing both a fictional future scenario and portraying our process and methods. This self-imposed limitation in the form of a closed structure helped frame the work for the rest of the week. Part of my interest in the workshop was having a inner experience as a student and seeing with my own eyes how people from different backgrounds struggle with the uncertainties of such a process. The workshop was not suggesting a concrete methodology or set of tools but the organizers trusted the groups in their self-organizing skills. This created some issues with the group. Personally it put a little bit of stress on me for keeping the pace and the process. Each group had a facilitator whose role was purposfully loose.

SD mapped over traditional design process (source).

Our group got assigned the location in Lushoto in the Tanga region of Tanzania and was asked to start doing some research putting our attention to both “trends or for things that are curious, peculiar [or] innovative”.  Early in the processo the first concerns and conversations around coloniality started to emerge. Almost the whole day we engaged in several discussions that helped frame our our work for the rest of the process in the form of these and other open questions:

Can we speculate about other peoples’ realities?

Is it better to act well-intentioned on an uninformed opinion than do nothing?

Is deciding not to design the most radical act of design?

Can knowledge ever be neutral? 

Is speculation possible without projecting one’s own desires or fears?

Where is the grey area between inspiration and colonisation?

This helped reframe our initial brief which was to speculate around the future in this community. A couple of pathways were brought up:

  1. Relocate our focus to ourselves. Recognize interdependencies, take responsibility of our privileges and recognize our contribution to the colonization of possibilities as a post-colonialist community. This aligned with what I later learned to be multi-sited ethnography.

    Could we work on a constructive image from the future to engage people in the creation of post-colonial futures that respect the autonomy of Tanzania and Lushoto?
  1. Use the parody as a critique to some bad practices in the field of SD and to ignite conversations about the decolonisation of these practices by:
  • Mimicking a non critical process like we were supposed to do
  • Repositioning ourselves as a design object by reproducing the workshop like done in Lushoto by local designers imagining the futures of Rome or Europe. We rejected this option because of some reservations about the idea of positing ourselves as victims and blaming an oppressed community.

After discussing both possibilities we decided to go for the satirical approach and try to provoke some conversations. We decided to track what could be done badly process and ethic-wise. For that purpose we decided to follow our previously agreed process impersonating a fictional character named Alex who might embody characteristics of all of us a SD community from the global north (here a general description and biography of Alex can be found). Hard conversations were held discussing about where to focus our critique (persona, practice, design community…) and the level of subtlety of the critique (how evident? how maniquea? how open ended?).

Well aware of the deep critiques SD has been receiving from different sides we decided to do some background reading about post-colonial and critical perspectives. Among others we skimmed over:

 Apart from these references we also got interesting insights by browsing some of the critiques, discourses and evolutions of more mature disciplines/approaches such as critical studies, ethnography or participatory design.

After these conversation and having a clear position and point of view for our project we let the parody process start. Hereafter I describe some of the pitfalls of SD and bad practices which we identified and enacted during the process. I also share some of the wicked results and poorly frames insights which we highlighted.

Research: days 1-2

The brief for this initial research was to familiarize with the context we were designing for taking into account both the general trends and the curious, the eye-catching, non normative… We started by reading some of the available information which happened to be mostly official reports from international organizations like UN or FAO. We also did some desk research about grassroots efforts in innovation and technological development. We also dove into social media to see tagged pictures and publications in Lushoto. Some imaginaries about the location started to pop up. Here some of the main findings are aggregated.

Caption from a local facebook group.

We aggregated all the findings from our research in a map that helped assign some focal points for our project: land grabbing from chinese funds, deforestation and soil quality, water, seed preservation, role of women in community, start-up ecosystem, religious conviviality , access to education, tech usage and literacy, migration…

Trend map

Some of the bad practices that could be introduced in this phase:

  • Non-participative or poorly participated research. Lacking context, imaginaries, placed knowledge, etc.
  • Participatory process in which the role of communities is purely as “observed” or “extractive sources”
  • Research based on international reporte with a clear bias / institutional knowledge as superior
  • Bias of our narrative/metaphorical frames of reference
  • Not having technological contexts of the use of different tools (ex. fish with pig face pic and FB group)
  • Rational dualism. Exotization of the other.

Problematization and scenario setting – day 3

In every design process (ass well in SD) and after having sufficient knowledge and understanding of the situation it takes place a process of problematization which is key for the definition of scenarios and worlds willing to be explored. Problematization is not a neutral process, moreover is deeply political. Some of the most fierce critiques to SD elaborate on accusing the practice of not tackling the structural aching elements of real-world problems (accumulation of capital, capitalocene…) moreover aestheticizing them. 

For the definition of our scenario (which can be consulted here) we used a collective narrative assemblage process.

Narrative assemblage

Some of the bad practices that could be introduced in this phase:

  • What if..? scenarios already introduce desirabilities both in positive or negative examples. These desirabilites are sometimes taken for granted following the mainstream narrative. 
  • Exhaustion of futures. Slow cancellation.

Ideation – day 4

Throughout this phase we started sketching out some ideas about a prop that could populate the world we had created and that embodied visually as many as the pitfalls of poor SD. Already in this phase we started reflecting about which message and performativities we would like to introduce into the final presentation. We wanted to use the context of the exhibition to loosely and without lots of nudging rise some gut level feeling of inadequacy. 

Ideation sketches

The breakthrough of the process was the serendipitous encounter of a maasai spear. We decided to provoke a detournement effect by opposing a traditional tool with a badly understood bottom of the pyramid DIY approach using waste from capitalistic world (the Pringles antenna).  This object was meant to create a rejection from the spectator almost as in Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty. We also decided to leave the purpose of the gadget quite open-ended,

Some of the bad practices that could be introduced in this phase:

  • Enchantment of tech. Techno-utopian bias.
  • Reproduction of models. Scaling and replicating bias. (Tanga Valley)
  • Bias towards the new.
  • Tyranny of what’s possible.

Exhibiting and engaging in discussion – day 5

The final day was mainly about producing the final piece for the exhibition and orchestrating the different elements of it: a scenification of Alex’s working space containing his process diary that itself consisted the narrative of a speculative designer struggling with post-colonial issues, a map of the hypothetical scenario in Lushoto and the prop. 

Final setup for the exhibition

Additionally we decided how to set up the presentation and how to open the discussion with the audience. For that reason we projected some critical questions slideshowing in the background as well as a Twitter thread of Alex interacting and being criticized by Victória Turner.

Some tentative conclusions (edit mode)

In order to overcome some of the critiques that we (and others) have raised about SD as a practice, us designers need to push for:

  • Real and meaningfull autonomous participation of the communities we are designing with.
  • Diverse visions and perspectives more evenly broadcasted

Making sense of 1st final term project

Making sense of 1st final term project 3647 2532 markeloptah
Reading Time: 4 minutes

During the past weeks I have been trying hard to converge into a topic to be the focus of my final term project. During that process I synthesized a map with the different terrains that I have been exploring since I started this learning journey. 

Problem space for the project of the first term

I am very happy that after struggling a bit I have found a problem space that seems reasonable to me, motivates my learning and seems to be of common interest in the age of crisis that we are living.

Most of this first term I have been involved in understanding the fading limits between individuality and collectivity, between self and otherness, and how they entangle to each other in the process of change. Being certain about our collective need to reimagine our futures and materialising them I have been trying to understand how system level change happens. I have been exploring the adaptive dynamics of complex systems and which agencies we can exert in order to push alternative potential states. I have also been exploring the phenomenological experience of change, of learning, of imagination, of making sense… And finally I have been exploring process facilitation. How, as an interdependent individual, one can participate in the enactment of change. All in between this topics I have been surfing the potentialities of design as a culture of change trying to find questions and answer around how design can contribute to the kind of worlds that I am willing to make.

As I stated in the foundations of the open master, I want this learning process to be incarnated. Not to be uniquely involved at an practical-intellectual level but to compromise my wholeness into it. This past weeks have been emotionally very troubling and have make me question myself and my relationship to others, specially those who I love. I have been ruminating a lot around who(s) I want to be, which I want my role to be in the world, which new narrative I want to bring to myself… 

I love as much as I suffer processes like this in which I am involved right now. Anxiety and goosebumps alternate rapidly. The feeling of being lost and without direction overlays with some amazing discoveries and mental connections that emerge. Few weeks ago while reading about the narrative brain and how it affects our perception of the world I came across the work of George Monbiot and it resonated a lot with the ideas I have been involved with this past months. One of Monbiot’s recurring ideas is that we have been dealing with a lack of imagination in what he calls the restoration stories of Keynesianism and Social-democracy. In his last book “Out of the Wreckage” he calls for a new story one that builds into the politics of belonging. All this readings vibrated in a frequency familiar to me. From my teenager years learning about mutualism from the hands of Kropotkin to my newer fight against the dialectic of capitalism vs. communism from the hands of Murray Bookchin. Somehow I realized that emancipation, auto-organization, direct action, prefiguration… was something that seemed to me like essential for realizing the alternative imaginaries that I was craving for. All this reflections helped me build a first couple of frames for the project.

How might we design for alternative imaginaries around politics and aesthetics of self-organisation?

How might we prioritise soft technologies and the enchantment of the collective self?

Few weeks ago we had the chance to meet with Becoming collective with whom we would like to kickstart a collaboration. During the conversations several threads started to connect and a possible intervention was collectively sketched. While conversing we transited two ideas that were central to the identification of that opportunity:

  1. Self-organization / participatory / social movements are characterized by a mainly conversational based decision making process. Many of them based on consensus (see Seeds of Change work) and/or consent (see lazy consent by Ouishare). During last weeks I have been exploring negotiation processes and “stretch collaboration” in cases where consensus is not an option.
  2. The diversity of social movements is a necessary characteristic of  healthy democracies, although the relative disconnection between social emancipation processes leads to slower and more energy consuming processes that lead to the feeling of everytime starting all over again. We have the intuition that the social (and historic) capital of self-organization in Catalunya could be leveraged to activate a social learning process.

After this reflections, some possible interventions in the space of conversational interfaces were upheld in the context of pervasive “listening” technologies such as Alexa, Google Home….

How might we reconquer technology for common good?

How might we leverage on social learning supported by AI for invigorating emancipatory and self-organization processes?

As a result from the conversations few interventions were suggested, being the first one to be able to pitch the general conceptual frame in Decidim fest which will be held in Barcelona in October. The idea would be to present some kind of performative intervention involving some kind of diegetic prototype that may help us pitch the future scenario. This presentation could be a good starting point for setting a proto-consortium of interested parties to participate in a futurible european project. Many cities around Europe have already implemented Decidim platform into their municipalities. Some representatives of this governments will be present in the fest. We have the intuition that our intervention can click some keys.

The project/intervention suggested above is a mid-term one. Following my self-imposed rule of the materializing a project every quarter I, hereafter, develop some possible deliverables that can contribute to the general goal and are attainable during august.

  • Article/declaration of intent for the tech/ai for good
  • Fiction for a future scenario of reconquest of tech

One of the initial statements of my process was that I wanted it to be situated and involved with the community. After speaking with Adrià I think it would be a would idea to converge a little bit more the problem space to self-organization in housing space. This also has to do with benefiting from the work that has been done with the guide.

Threads to keep pulling:

  • Perception of time / Tyranny of productivity 
  • Rituals and objects
  • Other grammars for participation (constructionism, embodied intelligence…)

From problem solving to problem caring

From problem solving to problem caring 2072 1105 markeloptah
Reading Time: 4 minutes

One of the most important leaps in my career and general mindset as a designer came when I started reading and exploring a cybernetic (systemic) approach to my practice. Coming from a very engineering focused design background, characterized by a deterministic, simplifying, linear and positivist bias and while being studying Integrated Design in Denmark I realized there were other approaches to design embracing complexity.

My first step into this field come to be by ecodesign practice and life cycle thinking. Even though it was a pretty limited focus it brought to me a myriad of expanding horizons through the minds and hearts of people like: Donella Meadows, Buckminster Fuller, Rittel & Webber… But, most importantly, it showed me there was a chance for me build a challenge based career. Not specialized in the kinds of devices excreted from the design process (a disciplinar compartmentalisation of design) but around different “on the fly” defined challenges.

Meanwhile Design Thinking started to be mainstream in design industry as well as in education, policy, innovation driven by IDEO’s marketing effort. This followed in the wake of 70’s and 80’s design methods movement pioneered by designers such as John Chris Jones.

At the same time I started deepening my understanding about cybernetics and systems science through Stafford Beer and others. I started to understand the complex and interdependent nature of many of the challenges I was naively tackling in my job as Technical Director at Basque Ecodesign Center’s Ideas Lab. And, most importantly, I started to frame design projects as means to an end. This coincides with an increasing effort I was doing to understand micro and macroeconomics. I came to realize most of my models for understanding business and economy were flawed and started finding new foundations through ecological economics.

Couple of years after, around 2011, I came to meet Adrià in Copenhagen who would then be my partner in what today is HOLON. After months of intense and transformational conversations I came to hear from him about Transition Design, a then nascent body of work led by Terri Irwin et al. at Carnegie Mellon Design School. The next couple of months were what I might call enlightening.

A group of amazing people at the other side of the ocean were putting into words, models and practice many of the intuitions that have been coagulating in my mind the past years. Learning about Transition Design and its integration of design practice, philosophical and sociological frames, systems literacy and politics was the grammar that my design discourse and practice was lacking. One of the interesting turnarounds of Transition Design is that of understanding designer’s job as intervenors in systems looking for particular wicked problem dissolutions. In Donella Meadows words: “dancing with systems”. This acupuncture approach to systems change is also a repositioning proposal of design, coming from heroesque narratives emanated principally from Silicon Valley white guys.

Although systemic design is already a pretty consolidated knowledge pioneered by universities such as: CMU, OCAD, OHA, Politecnica Torino and disseminated by various organizations and companies (Namahn, MaRS Solutions Lab, Shiftn…) design community is still lacking important competences in this field. That’s why Barcelona Design Week invited HOLON and BillionBricks to facilitate a workshop under the name: ‘From problem solving to problem caring’.

The main framing question of the workshop was:

During the workshop the affordable housing issue was used as a MacGuffin for explaining issues around a systemic and challenge based approach to design projects. Over the course of afternoon the particular cases of BillionBricks Asian countries and la Borda in Barcelona were developed.

The hands on part of the workshop orbited around framing problems through systemic understanding and developing a portfolio of design interventions (done and to be done) to be more strategic in tackling our challenges. To do so, several frameworks were used such as: the iceberg model, Systems leverage canvas by Sam Rye and the now canonical 12 leverage points by Donella Meadows.

For the sake of elaborating the workshop we reflected around the intervention points in the case of housing system as well as around how to expand the impact of systemic interventions.

In intervening systems scaling-up prototypes might not be the best suitable solution since the act of scaling can decrease the effectiveness of a successful prototype intervention even worsening the situation. Sam Rye proposes three different approaches inspired by nature:

  1. Swarm. Much of the effort that goes into scaling efforts is about centralising the coordination, monitoring or otherwise. What we’ve learnt about swarm behaviour in nature, is that it relies on self-organised, collective behaviour.
  2. Replicate + Adapt. The driving force of evolution is the constant cycle of replication and adaptation. Incentivising this approach for systems change activities could avoid the need for scaling up individual efforts, by significant replication of the core of an intervention, which is then localised to a specific context. Really connected to open-sourcing (FOS).
  3. Cascade. This is a nascent thought, but I regularly see this pattern in nature whereby a species of animal or tree creates conditions for many others to live. Whether it’s a beaver dam, a tree with a large canopy, or a hermit crab, this pattern is common and has potential to be explored.

The contents, references and presentation of the workshop can be consulted below.

A brief ethnography of digital nomads

A brief ethnography of digital nomads 1500 996 markeloptah
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Last week I had the chance to visit my friend Jon in Xàvia (Alicante). He has lived there for a couple of years since is the basecamp of Sun and co. project he as his partner Eduardo founded several years ago.

Since his experience in Edinburgh’s The Melting Point, Jon has been involved in dynamizing creative communities in coworkings contexts. Four years ago a new opportunity emerged for him to put a step into co-living schemes. Eduardo, the owner of a youth hostel in Xàvia wanted Jon to start a co-working co-living space there while in low season. And there he went.

All those years, intermittently Jon has been speaking to me about one of their main clients in Sun and Co: location independent freelance workers or so called digital nomads. This social phenomena took my attention since it constitutes a niche prototype practice of a future of work. The future(s) of work has been a buzz topic for a couple of years now on, exacerbated by digital technologies which facilitates remote (and mainly cognitive) work and the first resonances of work robotization and automatization. Infused in these conversations topics like universal income, networked organizations, algorithmic companies… have been commonplace.

Remote workers, most of whom are liberal professionals working in digital-related businesses have made working remotely not only a contingent practice but a whole new lifestyle with it’s own ethics, aesthetics and practices. This fact has been driven by important changes in organizational dynamics regarding control, presence and personal/work life balances.

One of my interest areas regarding my self-directed masters is that of emerging organizational structures, dynamics and forms. Apparte from spending some time with my lovely Jon, getting to know and understand a little better motivations, values and purposes of these digital tribe was of high interest for me. At a personal level framing this trip as a sensing journey helped me train a little bit some of the arts of being, such as deep listening, which are also a important focus of my learning process. At an spiritual level, engaging in quality time with Jon left me really energized by his charm. We had the chance to discuss some personal leaps that Jon had made in the lasts months thanks, in part, to a cathartic reading of Eckhart Tolle’s Power of Now. This week I just started leafing through the book. I might write a review once I have finished it in my books section.

Hereafter you can find some of my notes regarding what I experienced about the digital nomads zeitgeist. I has the chance to have many conversations with Jon and his co-workers regarding some of the ideas there.

Some ethnographic notes

Tool: frameworks for structuring etnographic material

Community and culture in Sun and Co.

  • Weekly goals and projects
  • Self-led event agenda and skillshare scheme
  • Mastermind. Go meetings.
  • Rol of the host (Jon).
    • Hosting manual
    • Community building manual
  • Intimacy and bonds seeking. Host as a love node in the community.
  • Use of space
    • Lunch and dinner time

Collective imaginaries of the digital nomad community

  • Adventour and newness
  • Community.
  • Home-making and signifying
  • Non-normality and otherness
  • Happiness: joy vs. excitement. Everydayness neglection. In search of the peak experience. Waterfall effect (Jon).
    • Mechanistic thinking. Love as an excel formula. Leisure as a timetable to be filled. Friends as something you find in a place.
  • Productivity, efficiency and willforce.
    • Waking up at 5 am and cold baths.
    • Doing everything I need to have done before 10 am
  • Being in search and/or scaping
  • Money and financial freedom
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