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Design over time: the “long now”

The complexity of systemic challenges comes in part from their extended duration. The present forms of organisations, places, cultures, and other systems are deeply rooted in past actions, while the consequences of interventions extend far into the future. In the context of systemic crises, designers must navigate between the need for immediate action and maintaining long-term change. After all, today’s design interventions are tomorrow’s design constraints. Yet, it is difficult to think of the temporality of design beyond the consideration of years or decades. In the terms used by the Long Now Foundation, the “long now” spans 10,000 years before and after the present moment.

What if one thought of systemic design in terms of centuries or millennia? How might this be possible, and what would its consequences be?

In this focus, RSD11 explored long-term perspectives on systemic design.

  • How can systems be designed to persist?
  • When is this appropriate and desirable?
  • How can systemic designers account for the long-term effects of their work?
  • What are the ethical implications of designing with the expressed intent of long-term endurance?
  • Who should decide what lasts?
  • How might the rights of future generations be included in what designers do now?
  • In what ways might approaches such as futures literacy (identified by UNESCO as a key skill for the 21st century) and cathedral thinking support systemic design, and what are their limitations?

Thanks to those who have proposed and developed the focuses: Christopher Daniel, Gareth Owen Lloyd, Dulmini Perera, Sally Sutherland, Ben Sweeting, James Tooze, Jeffrey P. Turko, and Josina Vink.

Indicative References

  1. Brand, S. (1994). How buildings learn: What happens after they’re built. Viking.
  2. Kemper, N. (2019, April 29). Building a Cathedral. The Prepared.
  3. Miller, R. (2015). Learning, the future, and complexity: An essay on the emergence of futures literacy. European Journal of Education, 50(4).
  4. Rose, A. (2021, April 19). Continuity: Discovering the lessons behind the world’s longest-lived organizations [Video]. YouTube. 

Design over time

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