Focus: Design over time
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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 explores 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?

Indicative References

Brand, S. (1994). How buildings learn: What happens after they’re built. Viking.

Kemper, N. (2019, April 29). Building a Cathedral. The Prepared. https://theprepared.org/features-feed/2019/4/28/building-a-cathedral

Miller, R. (2015). Learning, the future, and complexity: An essay on the emergence of futures literacy. European Journal of Education, 50(4). https://doi.org/10.1111/ejed.12157

Rose, A. (2021, April 19). Continuity: Discovering the lessons behind the world’s longest-lived organizations [Video]. YouTube.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gmdnCyM8y-s&t=1048s 

Special thanks

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

Posted April 2022
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RSD11 Call for Contributions

RSD11 Call for Contributions

Now open. RSD11 Call for contributions that challenge, extend, critique, and diversify established working methods in systemic design.

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