I personally believe that much of what is wrong about the world and that no longer works, has its roots in bad design. This includes legacies of historical designs that are no longer fit to meet our current and future needs.
Think of the many examples all around us of products, places, systems and processes that frustrate and make us unhappy. These are definitely not good for our own wellbeing, nor for the greater wellbeing of our planet!
This is not new thinking. The intellectual giants of the 70’s, Fritz Schumacher and Victor Prapanek advocated for designs that are better suited to meeting people’s fundamental human needs. Schumacher gave us the seminal idea that 'Small is Beautiful'. He could not have imagined the scale at which we are connected in our world today. Yet his ideas are more relevant now than ever. Victor Prapanak, a contemporary of Schumacher (and considered as the person who has most fundamentally influenced design thinking) wrote about Design for the Real World. Prapanek emphasised the importance of social and ecological issues over aesthetics and expendability.
These thought-leaders lived in the era of Flower Power and the Back-to-nature Movement, which sprang from both the hippie reaction against plastic consuming America and the environmental crisis that the baby boom had helped to create. The first Earth Day brought issues such as pollution and diminishing resources into the global consciousness, as consumers began to feel the real threat of shortages brought on by the 1973 oil crisis. This inspired a period of intense and creative experimentation with alternative energy sources, new forms of design and ideas such as eco-architecture (an early example being Paolo Soleri’s Arcosanti, a compact, experimental town in the Arizona desert). But these ideals were quickly overtaken when the earth's reserves started being drained for 'cheap oil'. This fuelled the rampant growth of capitalism and globalisation during our lifetime. It has catapulted the world into the control of industrial and multi-national scale institutions and big business.
Now we are living with the consequences of global socio-political and economic crises, as well as climate change. I believe the current mess forces us to return to the more humanistic, less materialistic values that many strived for in the 70s.
Flower Power mobilised people against the threat of what could happen in the future, but today we have to mobilise to deal with global crises that are already happening.
Do you sense that we are creating and participating a radical transition to an unfamiliar future world? Surely we can’t ignore the evidence we are now seeing every day, that we are about to make some of the most significant transitions in the history of our civilisation.
These are The Great Transitions. It is up to all of us if these will become transitions towards truly egalitarian social and ecological values, increased human interconnectedness, improved quality of life, and a healthy planet, as well as an absence of poverty, war, and environmental destruction. With Humanity at the Crossroads, our only real hope as individuals is to prepare for, fully participate in and consciously navigate the Great Transitions that will define future life on Earth.
What’s exciting is that these Great Transitions create the flux for fundamental change and they offer us unprecedented opportunities to influence the future and to design the world that we want. These transitions could be used as an opportunity to start living at a human scale, with connections to our environment that can be sustained within the limits of the earth's life support systems.
So how do we create and participate in the right opportunities to contribute towards these transitions?
I personally believe this starts with believing in a mission to create healthier and happier life for us all. This will change the ways we think about human needs, how we care for each other and what we do to the planet. To create healthier life for us all, we have to apply our ideas, abilities and resources as creatives, carers and decision-makers, to consciously design and deliver products, services, places and systems that systematically enhance wellbeing for people and the planet. We must make more deeply conscious decisions about the qualities of design and the impacts that our designs will have.
Those of us who awaken the deep motivation to make a difference can work together to solve problems, discover creative alternatives, improve how the world is designed and to make ideas happen. Through our networks, we can access specific expertise and methods to research, innovate, design and invest in ways that create healthier and happier life for all. I’m keen to continue connecting with other people who are also navigating this journey and feeling that we need to and can do more NOW for the future.
I believe that recognising and taking advantage of these Great Transitions offers unprecedented opportunities for savvy designers, innovators, entrepreneurs and investors to lead new markets and to create new value - helping to save the world, but also to profit from it, in good ways that contribute to our wellbeing and happiness.
I will share my exploration of these Great Transitions in future posts and will welcome any ideas and insights you would be happy to contribute.