Design is relational, not isolated.

Hi, Kevin here.

Today I wanted to share some thoughts on an interesting topic that popped up in my feeds, a “speculative design workshop” on the topic of “Imagine a world where design has replaced politics”.

Mind the necessary assumptions I have to make in order to explore what the prompt elicits in my mind. I cannot avoid wondering why the prompt seems so weird in its framing, which plays an almost forced opposition, a potential false dilemma if you ask me.

Indeed, the whole question lies in the definitions given to the terms design and politics.

  • First, assuming the definition of design (with a small “d”) is broad and involves “a [indeterminate] process of conception to produce a means/medium in order to change an existing state to a desired state” and is therefore not limited to a practice such as “Design” (with capital “D”) nor to a group of practitioners such as "Designers".
  • Second, assuming that the use of politics (with a small “p”) here is as well broad and relates to “a [indeterminate] process of decision-making as a group and/or a collective” and includes “[some] forms of governance” (if one wishes to extend it), and therefore is not limited to a practice such as “Politics” (with capital “P”) nor to a group of practitioners such as "Politicians".  
  • Then, one can argue that design is by necessity an inseparable function of politics as a social practice.
Politics are designed means, which designs [us], and which designs back politics.

The question is therefore not so much to imagine that one could replace the other, since a relationship of interdependence implies a form of reciprocity (a co-evolution), but instead to discuss mutations or changes in the nature of the interactions between these parts, according to the existing context conditions/constraints.

Then the question(s) would be: what are the "adjacent possibles" (those that require the least energy) that can emerge?  How can they in turn influence the landscape that allows them to exist?  Etc.

Note that I'm not dismissing entirely the utility of the prompt here, as it arguably triggered this whole reflection. However, I am sceptical of the boundaries set by the prompt, as it makes as much sense as asking “Imagine a world where sitting has replaced the chair” to take an obvious product analogy.

Concerns are, despite the workshop being targeted at designers, not so many will necessarily challenge or even reframe it. “Careful what you wish for” is the tale of the curious meta-designer.

Thanks for reading!