Design can be a powerful tool that can be used to stir political action and social awareness, but it can also be destructive. Industrial design, through its consumeristic encouragements, has created an enormous amount of waste. In not recognizing the greater context of how an object interacts with the world, designers can cause emergence that can result in what is referred to as “wicked problems”, the state of the planet’s ecology being one example.
Ecology is the study of how organisms interact with one another and with their physical environment and this includes both non-living and living components making its health highly complex. In my pursuit to better understand these complexities, I have investigated readings by authors such as Donna Haraway, Anna Tsing, and Arne Naess, who work to contextualize ecology and the role humanity plays within it. Alongside this, I have been investigating philosophy on the morality of technology and the responsibility of design to provide autonomous relationships with technological advancements. Through these multidisciplinary critiques, I have become curious on how visual manifestations of the fluid nature of things such as the combination of art, science, technology, nature and especially time, can provide alternative interactions between people and the ecology of things.
Through these critiques, I am working to find out how design can be useful in creating more positive engagements.
The issue is that current conditions, guilt, and fear over climate change, cause apocalypse fatigue which can also result in temporal exhaustion, the idea that we can’t address the future due to focusing on the present.
Along with that is the clash between economy and ecology, examples being the timber industry, overfishing, and ranching versus conservation. Deep ecology recognizes that for ecology, and there for humanity, to progress, commercialization cannot value one resource over another.
Because of the desire for constant economic growth, specifically by western capitalism, there is an uneven value to organisms which does not align itself with philosophies on ecology, which understands the equal value of all organisms. Yet conservation has its own issues in these struggles between economy and ecology, like those of deforestation in the Pacific Northwest and cod fishing on the East Coast. Although I believe in the necessity of conservation I also recognize the instability that capitalism has created when small communities, like those in these two examples, depend greatly on these resources only to have their livelihoods destroyed by outsider intervention. As a designer, I see this as another case of emergence created by unsustainable planning, and I am curious how we can become more aware of the long term consequences of our actions and by understanding that growth is not necessarily ideal. I’ve become especially interested in when small individual choices become multiplied by time and population thus resulting in devastating predicaments like the loss of a species.
Alongside this, I have focused in on what designs help me to slow down, like a record player versus a media player, and partake in some aspect of ritual and analyze why they have this impact. Beginning with the aesthetics of a record player, an analog design that no longer is necessary with digital music streaming. And yet, they remain popular and current musicians continue to produce their music on records. Although some of this may indeed be due to current fashions, but this aesthetic expands past this. It provides a sense of ritual in listening to the full album encouraging a focus on the music that could inspire a ritual experience similar to this with nature.
To explore these possibilities further I investigated what items I find are able to “slow” me down or cause me to reflect. These range from things as simple as tea or more complex philosophies like wabi-sabi. Some a short term like a mirror or a clock, others shift time perspectives like dreaming and reading (fig 3).
Through my own practice, I have investigated how slowing down and drawing my surroundings differs from other forms faster forms of documentation. For instance sketching a scenic view rather than just photographing it (fig 4, fig 5). This helped me to sit and analyze the surroundings, helping me to notice changes. A finding that was also supported by expert interviews with scientists who remarked on how they use sketching as a research tool.
To do this I aim to leverage slow design’s ritual principle, to create positive rewards as well as helping these habits become long-lasting.
Together these ideas can help us to engage with our environment which encourages us to become better caretakers and be aware of changes in our surroundings, an important aspect of philosophy around ecology, and supported by the positive effects it has on us as explored by National Geographic (fig 1).
Through this, I explored possible solutions.
Focusing in on visualization, ones that utilize aspects of human and nature I explored what these might look like in motion. Now I want to find out how individuals might react to this and how it aligns with their own formations of rituals.
Can visual representations that they take part in, help them to manifest moments of reflections? And what prevents these reflections from becoming frustration and invading the tempo of their daily lives? What helps them to be moments that instead sought out? Through exploring with individuals I hope to answer these questions. Thank you. In my graduate program I am studying the discourse around ecology and how design might be able to help achieve a greater understanding and awareness for the complexities of our current ecology. I hope to diminish the boundaries we put between human and nature through my design work.
But I believe art and design can help to mitigate these problems. They can create alternative futures that provide qualitative interpretations of abstract data like those threatened by climate change. They can provide hope and action through opportunities for empathetic connections with our environments. Just as our ecology requires diversity, so should our imaginations of the future. However, this depends greatly on the recognition of ecological connections, and my research aims to promote these through illustrations of these relationships.
Fig 15: The Commons Sketch
To explore how the installation of such a design might take place, and what kind of visualizations help individuals to reconsider their relationship with natural world, a small prototype of a disappearing image could be install. The natural image would disappear or possibly reappear with human interference. It will be interesting to see weather people will choose to take pieces of the image, or leave it in order for the image to remain for others. This will therefore explore the Tragedy of the Commons which seems to be one of the greatest weaknesses between humanity and the preservation of the environment.
Fig 1: Human-Nature Visualization
Fig 2: National Geographic, Nature Nurtures Us
Fig 3: Time "Shifters" Exploration
Fig 4: Ink Sketch of Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Park
Fig 5: Ink Sketch of Polebridge, Glacier National Park