Transition design

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Transition design is design led societal transition to a more sustainable future. It applies an understanding of the interconnectedness of social, economic, political and natural systems to address problems that exist at all levels of scale in ways that improve quality of life. Such problems can include poverty and economic inequality, biodiversity loss, decline of community, resource depletion, pollution and climate change.

Transition design leverages the power of interdependency and symbiosis with the aim of transforming entire lifestyles, making these more convivial and participatory, and harmonising them with the natural environment. This is done through intervening in or designing systems, so as to assist people to satisfy their needs in ways that establish mutually beneficial relationships between people, the natural environment and the built and designed world. It involves changing the ways in which people earn their livelihood, and changing the organization of business, manufacturing, agriculture, finance, healthcare, education and travel. Transition design cultivates lifestyles and forms of everyday life in which fundamental needs can be satisfied in integrated, place-based ways, encouraging symbiotic relationships between communities, and between communities and their ecosystems.

Transition designers[edit]

Designers assume a similar role in transition design as they do in service design or design for social innovation: the designer is a facilitator of emergent solutions to problems rather than an expert who conceives and delivers blueprints and finished solutions. Transition designers often make modest interventions which can ramify throughout entire systems.

Transition designers can come from all walks-of-life and backgrounds, regardless of whether they are formally trained designers. They use the tools and processes of design to re-conceive entire lifestyles, rather than focusing on problems within existing, mostly unsustainable, social, economic and political paradigms. Transition design is a collaborative process that requires expertise from multiple fields. It therefore emphasizes the need for transdisciplinarity and for the reintegration of knowledge.

Cosmopolitan localism[edit]

Transition design focuses on the need for cosmopolitan localism,[1][2][3][4] a place-based lifestyle in which solutions to global problems are designed for local circumstances and tailored to specific social and ecological contexts. Its objective is to foster a global network of mutually supportive communities (neighbourhoods, villages, towns, cities and regions) who share and exchange knowledge, ideas, skills, technology, culture and (where socially and ecologically sustainable) resources. Cosmopolitan localism fosters a creative, reciprocal relationship between the local and the global. It addresses the problem of globalisation, which tends to subsume local cultures and economies into homogenised and unsustainable global systems,[5][6][7][8] whilst avoiding the pitfalls of localisation, such as parochialism and isolationism.[9][10]

Origin[edit]

The term ‘transition design’ was inspired by Transition Towns, an international network of communities who are working to develop local resilience, and expand their capacity to respond to and 'bounce back' from external disruptions — crises such as an interruption to energy supplies, economic downturns or climate change. Transition Towns are, for example, developing locally based food and energy systems and local currencies and businesses.[11][12]

The concept of transition design was first developed by Gideon Kossoff in a chapter called 'Holism and the Reconstitution of Everyday Life: A Framework for the Transition to a Sustainable Society' in the book, Grow Small, Think Beautiful: Ideas for a Sustainable World from Schumacher College, edited by Stephan Harding.[13] This chapter was a summary of Kossoff’s PhD thesis, also entitled Holism and the Reconstitution of Everyday Life (2011).[14] The term 'transition design' has since been adopted by the Carnegie Mellon School of Design and incorporated into its curriculum as one of three areas within which design is taught and researched at the undergraduate, graduate and doctoral levels (Design for Service, Design for Social Innovation and Transition Design).

Transition design framework (Irwin, Tonkinwise & Kossoff, 2013)

Professor Terry Irwin, Head of the School of Design at Carnegie Mellon University and Dr. Cameron Tonkinwise, Director of Design Studies and Chair of the doctoral program, with Dr. Gideon Kossoff, a social ecologist and design theorist, together have developed a framework which organizes transition design into four mutually influencing areas: Vision for Transition; Theories of Change; Posture/Mindset and New Ways of Designing. This framework was first disseminated at a talk given by Irwin, Kossoff, and Tonkinwise at 'Head, Heart, Hand', the 2013 national AIGA design conference in Minneapolis.

Initial development[edit]

In his PhD thesis, Holism and the Reconstitution of Everyday Life, Gideon Kossoff used the term transition design to describe the process of using design thinking and process to assist the transition to a sustainable society.[15] This early framing of transition design integrated holistic science (including chaos, complexity and systems theories,[16][17][18][19][20] and Goethean science) [21][22][23] with a tradition of non-authoritarian social and political philosophy that includes figures such as Murray Bookchin, Lewis Mumford, Peter Kropotkin, Martin Buber and Jane Jacobs.[24][25][26][27][28] These figures can be called 'radical holists' since they use organicist, holistic or ecological principles to underpin their advocacy of decentralized, mutualistic and participatory social, political and economic structures.[29] This 'radical holist' approach has been validated by holistic science which defines wholes in terms of dynamic and creative self-organisation, mutualistic interdependencies, and a reciprocal relationship between wholes and the parts of which they are constituted. These principles are at the heart of an emerging ecological or holistic worldview that has been articulated by Fritjof Capra, Richard Tarnas, David Abram and many others.[30][31][32][33][34][35][36] Transition design can be thought of as a way of using this ecological worldview to address many contemporary problems.

In everyday life[edit]

Transition design, in its initial development, focused on everyday life, since this is the context within which ecological, social and economic problems arise, and this is the arena within which such problems must be resolved. It therefore drew on various critiques of everyday life such as those made by Henri Lefebvre, Guy Debord and Mikhail Bakhtin.[37][38][39][40]

This framing of transition design proposes that in order to be sustainable, everyday life will need to be organised according to holistic principles. Everyday life arises as people strive to satisfy their material and non-material needs.[41][42][43] It is more likely to be sustainable when communities control the satisfaction of their needs at all levels of scale — households, neighbourhoods, villages, cities, regions — 'The Domains of Everyday Life'.[44][45] In traditional, pre-industrial communities, the Domains emerged as people endeavoured to satisfy their needs. Embodying the social processes of such cultures, the Domains were to varying degrees, self-organising, participatory, semi-autonomous and mutualistic, and everyday life as a whole consisted of nested networks of households, villages, neighbourhoods and regions. These characteristics are shared with living, whole and ecological systems.[46][47][48] With the arrival of modernity and the Industrial Revolution, control of need satisfaction was largely appropriated by centralized institutions. When this happens, the Domains lose their role as loci for the satisfaction of the needs of their inhabitants, and they no longer emerge as vital, integrated, semi-autonomous forms: households, neighbourhoods, cities and regions are typically hollowed and fragmented. Their decline leads to many social, ecological, economic and political problems and to the unsustainability of everyday life. There is therefore a direct relationship between sustainability, community and place-based control of need satisfaction and holism in everyday life: the transition to a sustainable society requires the reconstitution and reinvention of the Domains of Everyday Life. An additional Domain, that of the Planet, has emerged in modernity and its development could give everyday life a cosmopolitanism it lacked in pre-industrial societies.

Any place-based initiative that promotes holism in everyday life, protecting and recovering control by communities of the process of need satisfaction, will help the transition process. It is the task of transition design to facilitate this at all levels of scale, revitalising and improving the quality of everyday life through the development of nested, networked, integrated, semi-autonomous and self-organizing households, neighbourhoods, cities and regions.

Transition design education[edit]

Transition design was first introduced in 2014 at Carnegie Mellon University's School of Design where it informs projects, curricula and programs at the undergraduate, graduate and doctoral levels.

Doctoral programs[edit]


See also[edit]

References[edit]

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  14. ^ Kossoff, G. Holism and the Reconstitution of Everyday Life: a Framework for Transition to a Sustainable Society, PhD thesis, Centre for the Study of Natural Design, Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design, University of Dundee, Dundee, 2011
  15. ^ Kossoff, G., Holism and the Reconstitution of Everyday Life: a Framework for Transition to a Sustainable Society, Phd thesis, Centre for the Study of Natural Design, Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design, University of Dundee, Dundee, 2011
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  29. ^ Kossoff, G. Holism and the Reconstitution of Everyday Life: a Framework for Transition to a Sustainable Society, Chap. 3, Phd thesis, Centre for the Study of Natural Design, Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design, University of Dundee, Dundee, 2011
  30. ^ Tarnas, R., The Greater Copernican Revolution and the Crisis of the Modern Worldview in A New Renaissance: Transforming Science, Spirit and Society, ed. Lorimer D. and Robinson O., Floris, Edinburgh, 2011
  31. ^ Speth, J.G, The Bridge at the End of the World: Capitalism, the Environment and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability, Chap. 10, Yale University Press, New Haven, 2009
  32. ^ Abram, D., 'The Mechanical and the Organic' in Gaia in Action: Science of the Living Earth, ed. P. Bunyard, Floris, 1996
  33. ^ Hayward, J. Letters to Vanessa: On Love, Science and Awareness in an Enchanted World, Shambhala, Boston, 1997
  34. ^ Mumford, L., The Pentagon of Power: The Myth of the Machine, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1964
  35. ^ Capra, F. The Web of Life: A New Scientific Understanding of Living Systems, Anchor, New York, 1997
  36. ^ Goerner, S.J. After the Clockwork Universe: The Emerging Science and Culture of Integral Society, Floris, Edinburgh, 2001
  37. ^ Bakhtin, M. Toward a Philosophy of the Act , University of Texas Press, Austin, 1993
  38. ^ Debord, G. 'Perspectives for Alterations in Everyday Life' in The Everyday Life Reader, B. Highmore (ed.) Routledge, London, 2003
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  41. ^ Max-Neef, M., et al. Human Scale Development: Conception, Application and Further Reflections, The Apex Press, New York, 1991
  42. ^ Kamenetzky, M.'The Economics of the Satisfaction of Needs' in Real Life Economics: Understanding Wealth Creation, P. Ekins and M. Max-Neef (eds.), Routledge, London, 1992
  43. ^ Illich I. Towards a History of Needs, Heyday Books, Berkeley, 1978
  44. ^ Kossoff, Gideon, Holism and the Reconstitution of Everyday Life: a Framework for Transition to a Sustainable Society, Chap. 5, Phd thesis, Centre for the Study of Natural Design, Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design, University of Dundee, Dundee, 2011
  45. ^ Kossoff, G. 'Holism and the Reconstitution of Everyday Life' in Grow Small, Think Beautiful: Ideas for a Sustainable World from Schumacher College, ed. S. Harding, Floris, Edinburgh, 2011
  46. ^ Capra, F., The Web of Life: A New Scientific Understanding of Living Systems, Anchor, New York, 1997
  47. ^ Wheatley, M. J. and Kellner-Rogers, M., A Simpler Way, San Francisco, 1998
  48. ^ Koestler, A., Janus: A Summing Up, Random House, New York, 1978

External links[edit]