In the last months I have worked as an editor on the content of KHiO‘s Socially Responsive Design (SRVD) publication. Additionally, I submitted an essay about my time as a student; researching and developing SRVD. Writing is not something that comes easy to me, but it always works as a reflection tool for me!
The publication has been designed by the wonderful Steinar & Mats (also former KHiO students).
Optimism in Socially Responsive Design (SRVD)
Can I Save the world? With this question I entered the MA Design programme at the Oslo National Academy Of The Arts as a student. It was a professional choice, to not just see design as a way of making a living, but to find a way of living. Eager to invent ways of combining ethical aspirations, design thinking and career.
Many more silly, big, naive and serious questions followed, which I transformed into creative interactions and interventions. Testing them during the many presentations we had to do, always involving my audience. At first, just to steer the attention away from me, but soon realising it was a perfect way to experiment, engage and generate feedback. Learning and understanding through experiences.
Subsequently, I used every opportunity as a platform for experimentation. The discovery of this performative element, helped me to overcome my fear of speaking in front of groups and additionally, it added dimensions to my design research. To explore the boundaries of visual communication by, for instance, co-designing theatrical experiences in the public space with theatre students to let people think and reflect.
As a designer, I was (and still am) not as interested in design problems of shape, colour or form, rather in ‘wicked problems’ rooted in society, which are complex and hard to define. However, by attempting to solve these problems, I hit the wall many times. A clash between my need to control the design elements of a project, and the new ways of working. Hence, ironically discovering the limitations of design and changing situations in the world. By attempting to seek outcomes, I realised that designers are not just problem solvers, but then what could be the new roles for designers?
To design my way out of wicked problems, I used optimism as a design approach and replaced my need for control by my love for process. “If it isn’t fun, then don’t do it!” a phrase still active in the MA programme. When not having fun, it is easy to become pessimistic and with that block creativity. Many times, when hitting a wall, I would ‘attack’ the situation with wit, play and optimism to turn it around into challenges.
By putting aside the fear of losing control as a designer, and allowing myself to fail, opportunities came to the surface. Acknowledging the importance of failure, gave way to open design processes of learning by doing. This time, not expecting outcomes, but acting and seeing what would happen, as a way to validate assumptions and ideas.
Using optimism while practicing vulnerability, transformed mistakes into learning moments and made it easier to move into situations of not knowing. Expanding comfort-zone into contact-zone; where ideas and people came together. Nurturing anticipation and resilience, to become responsive to situations. As a designer, taking on the role of problem investigator. Using problems as initial conditions, to map contexts and tease out possibilities in complex situations.
This realm of Relational Aesthetics (1) makes it possible to playfully explore and locate suitable places to perform creative interventions. Participatory frameworks designed to pose and raise questions, aiming to generate stories, thoughts, ideas and answers together with users. Interaction with users offers insights on how to make connections, that could benefit from each other.
Metadesigners(2) introduced us to open design processes, and their definition of ‘contagious optimism’ offered a framework to use optimism strategically. To develop a methodology of working and to perceive limitations as edges to play with and cross, to stretch and bend rules. In the form of interventions this can create chaos or friction, both necessary to make things emerge or set change in action. Moreover, these designed experiences convey learning moments to evaluate existing rules and systems.
Now, in my design practice, I continue to research how design can bring about social development and can act as a catalyst for change. Teaching on the SRVD element of the MA Design programme, the strategy of contagious optimism supports students in their ‘Quick and Awesome’(3) interventions. These students play a part in developing the MA design programme, and are at the forefront of investigating new roles for design. Leading the way to new design practices.
(1) a term coined by French art critic Nicolas Bourriaud