6/2/21 A conversation on life-centered design

Design has largely been an anthropocentric process, made by and for humans. But many designers are now trying to put nature and a wider community of living beings at the center of this process, rather than humans alone. Many of us in the EDC have been wrestling with these ideas. We invite you to join us next Thursday, June 2nd for an open and informal conversation on this topic.

In recent years, the design field has shifted focus from physical objects and products alone, to more intangible things like systems and experiences. More holistic visions for design have taken root, drawing on fields like biodesign, biomimicry, and transition design. Life-centered design asserts the inherent value of life itself, signaling a much broader and more diverse stakeholder community. But reorienting processes developed with human needs in mind can be a difficult challenge.

Human-centered design methodologies, for example, aim to involve human communities in every step of the design process. How would a design process centered instead on life truly include and involve other living beings, in practice? Could such a process avoid privileging certain kinds of life, certain kinds of experience, given design’s long and complicated history of valuing some people over others? What can we do about such exclusions?

We don’t have all the answers, but we believe in the power of collective thinking. Join us next Thursday 6/2 from 3-4pm EST for a freewheeling conversation moderated by EDC curators from Johns Hopkins University and the MICA Center for Social Design.

You’ll find us at this video link, or via the Chat channel of our Commons. Let us know you’re coming by replying to this message. Click this link to add the event to your calendar. Please also share any thoughts and resources about this subject on our Forum. We’d love to hear from you!

Some notes on the conversation today on life-centered design:
–what do we mean by LCD when “life” itself is a recent idea, with a particular history?
–conceiving and engaging structures like universities as if they were organisms
–novels like Gun Island by Amitav Ghosh as invitations to think beyond the human
–approaches like biomimicry as a way of tackling difficult human problems
–other traditions of practice (indigenous, activist) in approaching the natural world
–animals, plants, trees, forests, the environment, life beyond the human
–HCD as a buzzword, but odd, in that it centers just humans
–we are all part of nature, interdependent, and impacting each other
–inherent value of life, in design
–unexpected forces, consequences, effects of the non-human on human designs
–both positive and negative effects that ensue from ignoring consequences
–a calcareous exoskeletal support structure to deal with a precarious world?
–lived experience as a matter not just of human life, but also beyond
–biomimicry competition: looking to nature for inspiration, but still human-facilitated process
–antecedents like Moholy-Nagy’s “design for life”
–pillars of LCD: identity not just human but broader, biophilic / process beyond the anthropocentric / aspiration for new models, new systems, new perspectives, new questions
–working against the egocentric monstrosity of human constructions like plastic and their insidious environmental effects
–how to stop this emerging movement of LCD from being commodified and homogenized like everything else?
–specific techniques like the use of non-human personas
–not just about the environment, the relationships are also essential
–the principles are important, and we can define them, but what does LCD look like in practice?
–how do we draw the line between life and non-life, for example, water, can we acknowledge water as alive in an LCD process?
–how to ensure that what we work toward in the name of LCD is a truly different way of doing things?