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RSD11–7 focus areas

Products are systemic objects

RSD Focus & Hubs, RSD11, RSD11 Programme

Systemic design at the product scale is a dialogue between facts and concerns.

Products – artefacts made by humans for their own use or trade – require the considered negotiation between technical requirements (those that ensure the effective and safe functioning of the thing) and social, cultural, economic and political factors (those that shape the degree to which the thing is required and desired).

Products are created within increasingly complex contexts, shaped by macro forces such as geopolitics, technological acceleration, and climate change: “All objects are born things, all matters of fact (things) require, in order to exist, a bewildering variety of matters of concern” (Latour, 2004).

As Marshall McLuhan noted “we shape our tools and thereafter they shape us”, however they also shape the worlds we and all other known life inhabit. Creating products means creating consequences: direct and indirect; intended and unintended; infinitesimal and seismic; dramatic and accretive. Systemic design at the product scale is a dialogue between facts and concerns: a navigation of multiple overlapping and interconnected systems, most often undertaken with incomplete information, awareness, and understanding.

Design covers a spectrum of complexity from the stylistic to the systemic: symbols > objects > interactions > systems (Buchanan, 2001). This is not a hierarchy, but a stack. Even the most simple of objects, such as a pencil, have the potential to shape forests, fields and cities.

In this focus, RSD11 is interested in contributions exploring: circular design, regenerative design, distributed design, and, more broadly, ways that designers of things act to shape the nature and legibility of economic, bureaucratic, ecological and cultural systems. Contributions could include examples where co-creating and influencing a system’s norms and outcomes are at the root of a product’s specification and/or the designer’s agenda, as well as how-to guides and cautionary tales.

Indicative references

  1. Buchanan, R. (2001). Design research and the new learning, Design Issues, 17(4), 3–23.
  2. Latour, B. (2004). Why has critique run out of steam? From matters of fact to matters of concern. Critical Inquiry, 30(2), 225-48.
  3. Culkin, J. M. (1967, March 18). A schoolman’s guide to Marshall McLuhan. The Saturday Review, 51-53.

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.

Products are systemic objects

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