A Vocabulary for Visions in Designing for Transitions 

Candy and Lockton arrive at a vocabulary for visioning that is synthesized from practitioners and researchers working in diverse fields and who work “on questions of vision, futures, and how they relate to the present.” (28) They offer seven words: lenses, imaginaries, backcasting, dark matter, circularity, experiential futures, and new metaphors to think through Transition Design in a practical manner. Candy and Lockton bring their experience in research, education, design (Lockton) and experiential futures design (Candy) and invite others “to contribute lenses they find useful for new ways of seeing” (44). The hope is that through this exercise we expand the cases and terms we can reference and that we may establish a better “sense of how to do what needs to be done” (44).

Lockton, Dan, and Stuart Candy. 2019. “A Vocabulary for Visions in Designing for Transitions.” Cuadernos Del Centro de Estudios de Diseño y Comunicación 19 (73): 27–49. 

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Designing Future Experiences of the Everyday: Pointers for Methodical Expansion of Sustainability Transitions Research

The authors trace the development of “experiential futures,” a methodology that emerged with a case study in Hawaii in the 1970s through a project called Hawaii 2000. The study engaged 500 citizens in imagining Hawaii in the year 2000. In analyzing the state of affairs in 1999, Hawaii 2000 was deemed a failure--none of the hopes and dreams scenarios materialized.  Several interdisciplinary researchers have since expanded on the methodology. Experiential futures is now an emerging field that connects experience design and futures studies. Through research and practice, researchers create real memories of virtual events by combining futures inquiry methods such as scenarios with human-centred, experiential, empathy-inducing and performative approaches of artistic and design research. The methodology utilizes everydayness and fictional narratives to enable participants to engage emotionally in future scenarios. The authors suggest that real emotional responses to vicarious experiences generate memories that might lead to behavourial change. Experiential futures resort to storytelling, one of the most fundamental practices of human beings, making futuring comprehensible and relatable. 

GarduñoG arcía, Claudia, and İdil Gaziulusoy. 2021. “Designing Future Experiences of the Everyday: Pointers for Methodical Expansion of Sustainability Transitions Research.” Futures 127 (March): 102702.

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Politics of Designing Visions of the Future

Ramia Mazé, a researcher specializing in participatory, critical and politically engaged design practices, offers a critique and an alternative to Western linear conceptualization of time—past, present, future—and notes that concepts of future scarcely exist in some cultures. Mazé proposes we develop “approaches to query and make explicit the assumptions and preferences underlying designed visions of the future...[which] is particularly urgent given the expansion of such visions into policy and the public sphere” (24).  Design, along with art and architecture, can provide essential modes of knowing and other forms of thinking that are lacking in other disciplines. Mazé engages with Elizabeth Grosz’ concept of “the supervalence of the future” (Grosz 1999; 33) which suggests that the future has agency and wields power over the present. By engaging the future, we inform, understand and/or control the present. Albeit future studies are still dominated by “techno-centric, modern and gender- and Western-biased orientations” but they are complemented and challenged by prospective action research, cultural-interpretive and critical-postmodern approaches. When we talk about “change”, “progress”, “transformation” and “transition”, we do so by making assumptions about time, progress, and futurity.

Mazé, Ramia. 2019. “Politics of Designing Visions of the Future.” Journal of Futures Studies 23 (3): 23-38, January.

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Transition Design: A Proposal for a New Area of Design Practice, Study, and

In the paper, Irwin proposes transition design as a third sub-discipline of design, alongside design for service, which shifts design from its traditional focus on objects to user interactions, and design for social innovation, which moves the discipline from the marketplace into socio-cultural domains. Both subdisciplines are part of a movement towards the “codification of replicable skillsets and methodologies” (231) in design. Irwin places transition design at the end of a continuum, seeing it as a third subdiscipline that takes a broad view of design by placing it in the context of sustainability. Transition design acknowledges that all design takes place within a natural environment. It has the capacity to link the former two disciplines within this awareness and can help designers leverage their work towards desirable futures.  This essay provides a valuable introduction to the theory of transition design. Irwin presents the elements of her theory, explaining how transition design operates within a framework that considers the posture and mindset of the designer, visions for the future, comprehensive theories of change, and new methods of design. Each of these elements provides a vantage point for considering how transitions to sustainable living can be achieved. Irwin argues that design can contribute to resolving the “wicked problems” (234) of the 21st century and she sees evidence for this in the way that other disciplines are increasingly turning to design for support to map out and resolve important issues.

Irwin, Terry. 2015. “Transition Design: A Proposal for a New Area of Design Practice, Study, and Research.” Design and Culture 7 (2): 229–46.

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Living Systems Theory and Its Relevance to Design: A Matrix

This two-page document describes the qualities of living systems that designers can draw upon to begin integrating design and natural systems. Ten key concepts are covered: (1) living systems are “organizationally open, self-organizing and ‘autopoetic’ which means they generate order and change from within. Designers must work carefully with living systems to harmonize with and not disrupt their natural order; (2) they “operate in a state far from equilibrium”: living systems take in and expend energy continuously and designers must learn to channel the emergent flow of energy rather than seeking to reduce a system to equilibrium; (3) they “have emergent properties”: complex systems operate uniquely at many levels and designers must be able to design for adaptation and change rather than rigidity; (4) their “structure is networked, holarchic, and fractal” and design solutions must also be holistic in nature; (5) living systems are “Are sensitive to initial conditions” which means that small changes can have long-term effects. Designers must take the time to observe natural systems over time, and they should consider the ramifications of even small interventions; (6) they “Are controlled/regulated through feedback” and designers must learn to account for feedback loops when intervening in living systems; (7) “when healthy, [they] have high degree of diversity” which should be cultivated by designers; (8) they are “comprised of non-linear relationships,” which therefore requires designers to work slowly and iteratively, taking pause to assess the impact of their work on the system; (9) “whole and part relationships are nonhierarchical”: living systems are complex and the whole is difficult to see. Designers should refrain from imposing artificial boundaries around the system; (10) they are “full of interdependence and cooperation,” which designers should cultivate. They should also refrain from interfering in relationship webs, working iteratively to assess impacts before proceeding to initiate greater change (2).

Irwin, Terry. 2012. “Living Systems Theory and Its Relevance to Design: A Matrix.” In Grow Small, Think Beautiful: Ideas for a Sustainable World from Schumacher College, edited by Stephen Harding. Floris Books.

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Wicked Problems and the Relationship Triad

In this text, Irwin introduces four key points for changing our perspective on how design can intervene in society: (1) our “wicked problems” are as complex as the living systems they are embedded within (1), (2) people, environment, and things are intertwined in these systems, (3) new forms of design are required to address this, and (4) new ethics is required to develop new solutions. Irwin defines “wicked problems” as limitless, complex issues that cannot be easily conceptualized and argues that before designers can contribute to solving wicked problems, they must develop expert skills in seeing and understanding them, which means a departure from the oversimplified business-oriented worldview. In the second half of the article, Irwin defines an expanded “living systems” worldview that will provide designers with the tools to engage with wicked problems (2). Finally, Irwin provides examples of how interventions into systems can either compound or defuse wicked problems depending on whether they accurately assess the complexity of the systems in which they are intervening. Irwin concludes by arguing that new design principles that account for the relationship triad are essential if we are to move towards a sustainable future.

Irwin, Terry. 2012. “Wicked Problems and the Relationship Triad.” In Grow Small, Think Beautiful: Ideas for a Sustainable World from Schumacher College, edited by Stephen Harding, 232–59. Floris Books.

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Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things

This text outlines a design philosophy in which products are not thrown away after they are no longer useful (cradle-to-grave). Cradle-to-cradle thinking models the technological cycle on the biological cycle, in which everything produced in the system is reused indefinitely, serving as “food” for new products.  Highlighted here are chapters 1, 4 and 6. Chapter 1, “A Question of Design” traces how the Industrial Revolution initiated the age of mass consumption and resource exploitation. The mechanization of cottage industries drew rural populations into cities where factory work was abundant. Countercultural trends (Luddites and Romantics) pushed back against industrial optimism, even as a new, prosperous class emerged, and public infrastructure developed to meet its needs. This was an "undesigned” economic revolution, motivated by the desire to acquire capital, that has resulted in massive waste, pollution, and other social and environmental degradation, even as it set the stage for advances in human social organization and public services. Chapter 4, “Waste Equals Food” focuses on how “Products might be designed so that, after their useful life, they provide nourishment for something new _ either as "biological nutrients" that safely re-enter the environment or as "technical nutrients" that circulate within closed-loop industrial cycles, without being "downcycled" into low-grade uses (as most "recyclables" now are).” Chapter 6, “Putting Eco-Effectiveness into Practice” lays out five additional steps that can be followed by those who want to apply cradle-to-cradle design in their work.

McDonough, W., & Braungart, M. (2010). Cradle to cradle: Remaking the way we make things. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

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