[Back in 2005, Dawn was visiting Seattle and pressed into my hands a copy of a little book, In the Bubble: Designing in a Complex World. That book changed my brain. From the very first few pages, I was hooked: here was design thinking about sustainability and social innovation that understood and loved technology and ingenuity, without being blinded to its downsides, that embraced prosperity and modernity without missing the big picture that our current ordering of the world is both making us less happy than we might be and destroying the planet in the process. I knew the Doors of Perception conferences curated by the author, John Thackara, were legend, but it wasn't until I'd read the book, then shortly after had a chance to hang out with John (when he swung through Seattle), that I realized what a hugely important figure in bright green thinking the man is. I can't recommend his work enough.
I've since had the good fortune to get to know John a little better. Sarah and I presented at the last Doors, in New Delhi, and John and I have kept in touch while his latest project, Designs of the Times (DOTT), unfolded. It's a remarkable process, blending leading-edge design thinking with insights from local people involved in grassroots innovation in Northeast England, and it's produced some amazing results, results which have been captured in a terrific little book Wouldn't It Be Great If...
Worldchanging has been offered the opportunity to share much of that book with you. Over the next two weeks, we'll be publishing a section a day in exclusive features on the site. You can also
We'll start with DOTT's own explanation of its work--Alex]
A new industrial revolution
When North East-born George Stephenson designed his steam locomotive Rocket in 1829, he helped set in motion an industrial revolution that transformed everyday life for millions of people around the world. Since then, designers and industry have filled the world with an amazing array of products and buildings, transport and communication networks.
Many of these innovations had unexpected consequences - not all of them good ones. The parlous condition of the planet - our only home - is a good example. The industrial revolution gave us miraculous products, but we produced them in wasteful and polluting ways - and still do.
The benefits of new technology once seemed obvious: better, faster, smarter (and usually cheaper) products. But pointless gadgets and over-complicated devices no longer excite us. And one of the consequences of a technology filled 'self-service' economy is reduced social contact between people in their everyday lives. Consumer society no longer makes us happy, if it ever did.
What's this got to do with design?
Eighty per cent of the environmental impact of today's products, services and infrastructures is determined at the design stage. Design decisions shape the processes behind the products we use, the materials and energy required to make them, the ways we operate them and what happens to them when we no longer need them.
The UK economy has doubled in size since the 1970s; British design and creativity have played an important role in that success. But our satisfaction with life has not kept pace with economic growth. The idea that to be better off we must consume more no longer holds true. The same paradox applies to public services. Our expectations have grown and our spending has increased - but we are frustrated that not all our demands are being met.
"North East England has already proven its commitment to using design to create a more dynamic regional economy. Leading the way with a series of bold and innovative initiatives in business, technology and education, the region's plans for long-term investment and thriving cultural programmes make it the ideal choice to host the very first national design promotion - the very first Dott in 2007".
--David Kester, Chief Executive of the Design Council
How you can build on what Dott has started
Dott 07 explored ways in which we can carry out familiar, daily-life activities in new ways. It is a step towards a 'less stuff, more people' world in which new services will help us share the load of everyday activities: washing clothes, looking after children, communal kitchens and gardens, communal workshops for maintenance activities, tool and equipment sharing, networks and clubs for healthcare and prevention.
Many of these services will involve using products to carry them out but, as a rule, products play a supporting role as a means to an end, and new principles (above all, sustainability and one planet living) inform the ways they are designed, made, used and looked after.
Why the North East?
The dream of Dott 07 is that the whole North East region will become a kind of design school in which a wide variety of people - not just professionals - meet, share ideas, discuss and learn from each other's experiences.
Dott 07 was not about telling people in the North East how to live. On the contrary: its purpose was to enable local people - interacting with inspiring and visionary guests from around the world - to develop their own visions and scenarios.
In that sense, Dott 07 was in the acorn business. Its most valuable legacy will be the people who remain in the region, the projects they started and the skills they have acquired to carry them out.
The North East will once again be the birthplace of an industrial revolution - only this time it will be sustainable, include a lot of public sector innovation, and draw on the traditions of social solidarity that make the region so special.