29 March 2017

Dan Hill argues for more identity, not less

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Dan Hill (Associate Director, Arup, London) reflects in a long essay on the meaning of identity in the face of Brexit and Trump and what that implies for strategic design, service design and the infrastructure of everyday life. A few excerpts:

“Cultural identity is complex. That is the point of it. If it was innate and obvious, we wouldn’t have to construct it. An age being characterised as having a fear of elites, expertise and apparently facts will shy away from complexity but it is there nonetheless. What would it mean to be able to claim cultural and political affinity, as well as business relationships, with more places rather than fewer? […]

This trinity of speculative, service and strategic design could be profoundly useful at this point. Speculative design explores what is possible, plausible and preferable; service design refines propositions into tangible, working solutions; strategic design indicates how to put the whole thing together, assess and shape the broader architecture of the problem or opportunity, and address the broader context of ‘dark matter’ and decision-making, unlocking truly systemic change. […]

I need hardly throw any more words on the pile of opprobrium levelled at Trump’s election and the Brexit result; both results are appalling, selfish, narrow decisions. Sometimes that is because of appalling, selfish, narrow people — principally the small band of elites who engineered such decisions. But that, in turn, is possible because politics itself is now overly susceptible to a gaming of the system on this scale.

To counter this as designers, we must first be aware of our own limited sphere of influence, recognising that design should be a humble trade, to guard against hubris, and to understand and convey the limits of our knowledge of the domains we are designers within.

In tension with this, we must equally be aware of our responsibility and culpability, for helping design the systems that have enabled these outcomes, whether that’s electoral systems or social media.

But finally, in resolving these tensions, we must act as a countervailing force against the meanness and tightness that Judt saw coming, and actively engage with the design of the systems, services and spaces of a more resilient everyday life that rejoices in more identity, not less.”

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