Let’s See What We Can Do: Designing Agency

In a Medium essay that we missed during the Christmas break, Dr Dan Lockton asks how we can invert ‘design for behaviour change’ and apply it from below, enabling people to understand, act within, and change the behaviour of the systems of society and the environment?

We need, he says, “design that enables people to understand the wider contexts of their actions, their agency within society, and how they can act to create different outcomes, different futures.”

Understanding how to act to change the systems we’re in is arguably the biggest meta-challenge of our age. We need not just information, but tools for connecting our understanding of how things work and how we can act, around everything from the environment, cities, our own bodies, networked infrastructure to social, civic and political contexts, emerging technologies and plural considerations of the future itself.

This is design for behaviour change, but is not about designers trying to change ‘public behaviour’ as if it were somehow a separate phenomenon. Designers are members of society, and there is only one Earth: we are part of the same systems. It is about design which enables people to change the behaviour of the systems of which they — we — are part. [Emphasis by the author]

Lockton imagines a ‘Designing Agency’ research / action programme, which would rethink how we engage with the systems of everyday (and future) life, through developing new approaches to understanding and action.