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The context of ds21

personal overview
by John Wood

Society needs 'joined-up dreaming'

  • We are confused about the relationship between ecology (Nature) and economy (money/profit).
  • How the mass media deals with each of them reveals society's self-delusion
  • It exploits both 'Ecology' and 'Economy' events as sources of crisis
  • It therefore implies that they are comparable in scale...
  • Arguably, this type of cynicism contributes to the threat of human extinction
  • We know that economic growth damages the natural environment
  • Perhaps we need a more attractive alternative to the discourse of environmentalism
  • We need to broaden the range and remit of Eco-design (external link).

Designers must think beyond this contradiction

  • The DS21 project addresses our inability to share dreams of the 'good life' beyond cheap energy.
  • It suggests that we must envision ourselves within a viable solar economy.
  • We must do so in a way that is so detailed and clear that it becomes attainable.
  • Ds21 seeks to surpass what has been possible within the historical discourse of eco-design.
  • In so doing it speculates that we need a new mode of ‘metadesign’.
  • Metadesign would encourage the emergence of life-affirming and ecologically adaptive ways of living.
  • The eventual outcome for this inquiry is therefore the co-sustainment of synergistic communities.
  • We must first introduce terms of reference for this quest.
  • These must appeal to, and be effective at, all levels of government, society and business.

Could 'Attainable Utopias'au_g be an alternative to 'Sustainability'?

  • Environmentalist debate sometimes seems puritanical, ascetic, worthy, and - ultimately - negative.
  • The idea of ‘sustainability’ was conceived as a simple, moral instrument.
  • What we need is term that acts as a respectful reflection of how Nature works.
  • The word 'sustainability' reflects this problem.
  • Its lack of precision was useful, for it was an expedient political tool (Brundtland, 1987).
  • There is usually a price to pay for amelioration.
  • In this case, the discourse of ‘sustainable development’ is blighted by its own history of compromise.
  • This led to the current, widespread misuse of the term ‘sustainability’.
  • We are now used to terms such as ‘sustainable consumption’ (UN, 2005), or ‘sustainable business’ (2005).
  • These are too self-contradictory and imprecise to be helpful.
  • Popular use of the term ‘sustainability’ reflects our arrogance as a species.
  • It tends to affirm our faith in a fundamentally anthropocentric and technologically-administered world.
  • Perhaps we need to develop an aggressively positive discourse of ‘synergistic metadesign’

Developing a New Metadesign

  • The scale of the problem is very large.
  • How can we learn to ‘un-manage’ the self-sustaining nature of Nature?
  • We must acknowledge the exceedingly complex and capricious nature of the crisis.
  • We must act with due sensitivity
  • We need to develop 'joined-up' systems that reconcile imagination, observation, and action
  • Most designers are trained to work within a narrow, specialist remit
  • Their subordinate professional role and status stops them from fulfilling their potential
  • We can invent a new form of metadesign that might change this situation
  • This would enable designers to redesign the way they design
  • This will mean developing a holistic grammar for describing highly complex systems

Thinking beyond atomistic logic

  • The above problem shows a fragmented mindset that emerged from western thought
  • In short, humanism and atomism encouraged us to see the world as separate 'pieces'
  • After Socrates we developed a strongly individual-centred view of the world
  • After the French Revolution, citizens began to see themselves as quasi-monarchs
  • Today, it seems reasonable to see individuals as more important than society
  • The 'consumer is King' - with individual human rights, but no responsibilities
  • Western science also reflects this individual-centred (monocular) belief system
  • Hence, we tend to think of 'symbiosis' or 'game theory' in terms of viewpoints
  • (Many good exceptions - including Lovelock and Margulis)

Designing beyond the 'win-win' scenario

  • Since the 19th century citizens needed to be individuated customers
  • Today we must be increasingly self-knowing, self-aware, and self-other reflective
  • Arguably, it is hard to see the 'whole', when society is a multiplicity of egos
  • We know that Adam Smith is outdated, but the economic system ignores this
  • Within this historical context 'win-win' (e.g. symbiosis) seemed like a major leap
  • But it also sounded like an 'end in itself'
  • Within a larger (i.e. ecological) context it is only a special type of solipsism
  • Metadesigners can go much further than designing for 'win-win'

What is a 'Win-Win' situation?

  • The idea of 'symbiosis' ('win-win') is potentially useful for everyone
  • However, it is normally shown as only 2 players connected by a single relation
  • We need to expand our grammar of description to acknowledge more 'winners'
  • The western grammar of agency makes this more complicated than it should be
  • We need to evolve a fractal system of 'rich' ethical relations to depicts this
  • In this system, every relation is always precessive, and therefore unexpectedly auspicious
  • This would enable us to transcend bureacracy, large currency systems, cynicism, etc.

Using Tetrahedral Logic to bring Synergy

  • Synergy needs to be presented in a clearer way, in order to be useful
  • It is a a complex mode of optimization
  • We might need to think outside our rather egotistical mindset to grasp it
  • Ultimately, we need to develop a comprehensive grammar of metadesign
  • This is because our current grammar of relations lacks 'dimensions'
  • One inspiration for this is the tetrahedron

'Win-Win-Win-Win' is six times better than 'Win-Win'

  • A 'win-win' situation can be thought of as 2 winners sharing 1 (symbiotic) relationship
  • Consider a system of 4 winners who contribute to each other's success:
  • This process might consist of 6 (symbiotic) relationships
  • This is explained by looking at the way the tetrahedron works

Beyond symbiosis

  • Symbiosis entails a context represented as many co-dependent relations
  • We may conceive this as a fractal to make it infinitely extensible (micro+macro)
  • By aligning several orders of synergy to create a 'synergy of synergies'
  • Here, it is helpful to visualise synergistic ‘alignment’ in an appropriate topological configuration.
  • (Not, for example, as a simple ‘linear’ alignment such as cubes standing on top of the other)
  • We need a cohesive set of mutually-sustaining relations, such as a heterarchy (external link) of players
  • The presence of intrinsic roles within a linear set make their relations perennially unequal.
  • (because only two out of the four elements are immediately adjacent to more than one other).

Towards a synergy of metadesign

  • In order to develop a 'synergy of synergies' the ds21 researchers needed an agenda
  • This included synergising the ideas and the way we collaborate
  • It also included synergising the practical possibilities and outcomes within our work
  • We mapped 4 factors in a tetrahedral form that encourages 6 level of interconnection

1) New Knowing (from intuition, embodiment, & sharing)
2) Envisioning (thinking / criticizing / mapping)
3) Communicating (balancing internal & external conditions)
4) Pushing/Doing (resourcing, creating, and producing)

What have we achieved so far?

  • The project was funded by EPSRC/AHRC between January and December 2005
  • During this time we learned a great deal and will conduct a more ambitious level of work in 2006
  • Our complete set of papers is in alphabetical order
  • Here are some of the sub-sections in which new possible 'synergy tools' were outlined
  • The ignore the 'list' format. Each section is intended to be synergised with the others


Synergy within buildings and communities

Caroline Davey (with Cooper, Boyko and Wootton) explored ways in which socially responsible design might be able to deliver sustainable living styles.

Currency design

  • Richard Douthwaite advocates the design of 4 different types of GlobalEconomicSynergy
  • His EconomicSynergyConclusions suggest that countries should have 1) savings 2) trade currency
  • This would help to keep Capital and current money flows separate
  • A new world currency should be linked to population levels, rather than economic power

blue cube

Bisociative elements

  • For the developing bilingual, then, use of two different languages provides access to differing visions of that same world (language relativity). (Ong, 2002)
  • Furthermore, the ability to function in more than one language also provides a way of ‘stepping outside of’ one paradigm and of being able to compare and contrast one view with the other (Ong, 2002)


  • (see Pete & John's paper on memes in metadesign). Attempts to generate, cultivate, or manage 'memes' are likely to prove troublesome for all but the most patient and alert.
  • One way to map the domains of a meme might be to invent a classification system that resembles the twin axes of sympoiesis and symtechnesis.

WHERE: 'X' is referred to and - in popular terms - is regarded as being one thing but comprises, however, a range of 'orders' and/or attributes. Hence, we might consider, say, four customary 'orders' of design memetics where 'X' is identified as taking the following forms:

1) transtemporal - the enduring and generic ‘idea-of’ ‘X’
2) anticipatory - the ‘desire-for’ - or 'fear of' ‘X’
3) proximal - discovery of the actual and/or material presence of (i.e. ‘thing-of’) ‘X’
4) conjugative - the ‘contagious replication-of’ ‘X’

Where: 1) and 2) might appear to correspond more to 'sympoiesis' and 3) and 4) might correspond more to 'symtechnesis'.

  • It may be apparent that 1-4 may represent a life-cycle that loops itself into sustainment.
  • In other words, some memes are partially autopoietic (literally, 'self-producing') over their characteristic life-cycle.
  • Once we can get to know their 'signature' we may then be able to intervene at specific times/places in order to regulate their growth and decay.
  • To do this we must first understand how the memetic orders are aligned with one another.

Mapping the Relations between the Memetic Orders

  • In terms of human society and culture, 4) is sustained by the aggregate subsistence of 1-3.
  • This mapping method would enable researchers to observe phase relations between the respective memetic orders in actual case studies.
  • For example, it would be possible to plot the different angle of coincidence between, say, the increase in anticipation for, and the actual presence of, a given meme such as a 'flu virus.
  • Importantly, however, to do so we we might differentiate between the 'rumour' and the 'panic' stages of a serious influenza outbreak.
  • In some cases there would be a clear causal relation between , say 2) and 3), and in others, there may not.


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