design as a gift for a better future

Design as a GIFT Presentation

There is no doubt that in content this studio has been a challenge. At times frustrating, heartbreaking, dumbfounding, informing and challenging. It has challenged our individual values, or understandings of life, history and social phenomenon. In the class there has been an admirable desire to understand the issue as a complex social phenomenon – at times designed, at others the outcome of happenstance – no matter which, guns are a part of American culture. The desire by students to understand and engage in conversations about this in an unheated and informative way so that they can have a better understanding of what causes something to come to be, is admirable, and is a sign of what designers must be able to do if they are to engage as many people as possible. What I also have found interesting is that this rationale approach does not seem to have smothered people’s individual perspectives, and I hope that this has not been the case. In facilitating our learning having respect for all views and the right to speak it was my ambition.

As we have moved through the class questions have been raised about design and what it can do in such a complex issue – an issue that was transformed from being a wicked problem, to being a wicked ecology. With every step in any direction, more challenges and issues emerged. Designers must be dextrous when they practice in this kind of domain.

As we have made our way through the class we have had a tradition of Monday being ‘Snack Day’. Each member has taken a turn at bringing a snack to class to share with the others. This tradition emerged by chance after observing that another class did the same to overcome the challenges of an early morning session. This has been a pleasant and very tasty thing to partake in, but more importantly it has raised the issue of a gift and gifting – making something and sharing it with others.

Clive Dinot’s paper The Gift raises some very interesting points about the nature of gifts and their contribution to social life – and the differences between that which is formalised or ritualised and undertaken without a spirit of giving and receiving, and the gift that is done with intent to give and to receive. In both of these acts – to give and to receive people must have clear intentions and be open to the parts/roles of the act. I select or make a gift for you out of a desire to acknowledge you and to give you pleasure. You receive the gift from me in a similar way – you accept my recognition of you and the time/effort that it has taken to bring this gift to me. Typically such exchanges result in a smile, include some form of physical touch, and perhaps a tear. Through the made thing (even if the material of the made is a poem or a song) connections are made, relationships forged or secured.

I believe that what we have been doing in this class is a form of gift giving. Snack day and the giving of food to each other, the pleasure of both receiving and giving has been a ritual of a close and working community. But more than this, I would argue that the intention of this class has been to give to society through design, ways to address, challenge and perhaps transform the unsafe practices of gun use in the USA. Through fictions, methods, product analysis, campaign designs and opportunities to tell personal stories, each student has endeavoured to use their capacity as a designer to provide a gift of facilitating insights with others as a design act. The design outcomes of this class have been design actions that have been conceived and undertaken with the intention of engaging with others, either by provoking thinking, raising issues or facilitating exchanges, these including the book that they have been compiled into, are design gifts. Now, as Clive Dilnot raises, there are two parts to a gift – the giving and receiving. Our snack gifts have done both, our other design acts it could be said, haven’t as they have been largely housed in our studio. But this is debatable. In the course of this studio there have been many exchanges between students and our partner organisation, with other students, with community members and the broader CMU community. And although the design outcomes have not been for them all, the conversations of their making have; and these conversations of design process and practice in the making are as much a part of the giving as the outcome.

To conceive of what we do as designers as a thoughtful and considered gift to the world, whether it is in the completed made artefact, or in the making of it, is to practice design in a manner that is beyond notions of purely commercial production and it is not to be side lined as a ‘feel good only’ activity. It is to understand that  all design can be a gift for the world – and if we conceive of what we do – in the making and for those that will ultimately receive it – as a gift brings an insight to design practice that is beyond human centred, It is design for the living ecologies of the contemporary world.

Wicked Problems Human Centered Design(people to things & systems orientated design)
Wicked Ecologies Living Ecologies(social, cultural, environmental integrated phenomena)