Transdisciplinary Design

Ontological Futuring

Posted on November 28, 2015

While he glosses over the details and potentialities of ontological design, Jason Silva certainly does a good job of energizing the conversation around it. A conversation that is becoming ever important as Tony Fry says, “We’ are travelling toward a point at which we will have to learn how to redesign ourselves.” Ontological design seeks to explain how we have come to be design by that which we have design and leans toward our ability to use a similar tactic to effect social change.

Melika Leili says, “Effective social change usually happens through a bottom up process.” Perhaps that bottom up process no longer comes from outside but from within. Perhaps our idea of “bottom-up” starting at the grassroots level was not thinking deep enough. Perhaps change begins in the soil from which movements grow, at a subconscious level. If we think about designing for the internal rather than the external we begin to reshape the root mechanism by which we reshape our world.

Dunne and Raby take this concept one step future in speculative everything when they say, “The way the world is follows on from how we think: the ideas inside our heads shape the world out there. If our values, mental models and ethics change, then the world that flows from the worldview will be different, and we hope better.” When combined with the Anne-Marie Willis’ words, “We design our world, while our world acts back on us and designs us,” we can start to create a plan of action for how to get to a better world through creating morality invigorating interactions within it.

Below Daniella Zlotogoura describes how objects in our current world have come to define our morality.

Speculative design is particularly concerned with manifesting everyday objects from a possible future as a means to help define that future. Ontological design claims that those everyday objects do not just help us define the future, but the objects themselves and our interaction with them will define the inhabitants of that future. Below is an the “allegory of the long spoons.” It plays off the old Chinese proverb of the long chopsticks. A place where the utensils are too long to feed oneself so they inhabitants must learn to feed each other.

If we consider this world of “the long spoons” not just an allegory but a world where they have developed mechanism by which to teach people to become more emphatetic we can begin to consider designing a world which catalyzes integrity and promotes sustainability. As Dunne and Raby write, “It is becoming clear that many of the challenges we face today are unfixable and that the only way to overcome them is by changing our values, beliefs, attitudes, and behavior.” With this in mind we must utilize speculative ontological design as a means to help reshape human behavior. Not just as inspiration for the now but as design interventions for the future. Dunne and Raby describe one of the aims of speculative design as being to “create spaces for discussion and debate about alternate ways of being.” When speculating about the future we should be asking what type of people we want to be in the future and design from there.

While transdisciplinary design is certainly not limited to object making if we think about how our systems create how we view the world and how we view ourselves then we can start to think about systems change on an ontological level.

Jack Wilkinson