by Professor Ezio Manzini (external link)

Designing Networks and Metadesign

How can we design for the strange new social innovations that characterize our contemporary society?
What does it mean to steer designing networks towards more sustainable directions?
What conceptual and practical tools are needed?

Designing networks

  • At present times, designers have to operate in a society in which, as contemporary sociology points out, “everybody designs”.
  • In other words, they have to consider themselves part of a complex mesh of designing networks.
  • Designing networks include the emerging, interwoven networks of individual people, enterprises, non-profit organizations, local and global institutions.
  • They use their creativity and entrepreneurship to solve problems, to open new possibilities and, sometimes, to take some concrete steps towards sustainability.

Promising cases

  • Observing society as a whole, and in all its contradictions, despite some extremely worrying tendencies, there are some promising indications towards social innovation.
  • Creative communities and collaborative networks, for example, can be seen as positive steps towards sustainability.
  • Even if, at the moment, they are minority cases that are linked to major, on-going trends.
  • These include demographic change, growing environmental pressure, and the evolution towards a knowledge-based network society.

Design for social innovation

  • The possibility for all these weak signals to reinforce, to spread and to become a mainstream tendency is, at present, only a potential.
  • Its realisation will depend on several interwoven factors.
  • One of them is what designers will be able, and willing, to do to enhance this social innovation and to steer it towards more sustainable directions.

A new role of designers

  • To steer and to collaborate in directing the new designing networks, designers have to use specific capabilities and skills.
  • They must recognize promising cases of social innovation, understand them clearly, and make them more visible.
  • They must therefore highlight their strengths and qualities, on the one hand, and address their weak points and difficulties, on the other.
  • Finally, they must contribute to making these promising cases more accessible, effective and reproducible.
  • This new and fascinating role of designers is emerging. It is not a substitute for the traditional one. It can work alongside it to open up new fields of activity.

Design in/for designing networks

  • The new role of designers appears in two main modalities that, in reality, often become entangled together.

1) Design in the designing networks:

  • This means participation, at a peer-to-peer level, with all the other involved actors, to generate more efficient and accessible (promising) initiatives.
  • In this modality designers have to consider themselves as social actors endowed with specific design knowledge and skills.
  • This would enable them to facilitate the convergence of different actors towards shared ideas and potential solutions.
  • In other words, they must promote and enhance specific co-design processes.

2) Design for the designing networks:

  • This means collaborating with other involved actors in conceiving and developing enabling systems of products, services and knowledge.
  • Here, the role of the system is not to get a final result, but to create favourable conditions for the participants.
  • This would mean the best conditions for stimulating, developing and regenerating the ability and competence of those who will use it.
  • Its role is to empower their capability to collaboratively conceive, develop and manage new and sustainable ways of being and doing.

Enabling Systems and Metadesign

  • The design of enabling systems can be seen as an up-dated form of metadesign.
  • In fact, at least in Italy, the traditional metadesign definition is:

'metadesign is the design of a set tools, methodologies and ways of doing capable to support designers in a variety of design processes”.

  • An up-dated definition could be the same, but with a different meaning of the word “designers”.
  • In the new definition, in fact, the designers who have to be empowered are not only the professional ones, but all the participants to the extended designing network.

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