I am sure you are familiar with Asimov’s Foundation series. If not, here is a short synopsis of that epic writing. It lays the basis for the thoughts I am sharing with you
The premise of the Foundation series is that the mathematician Hari Seldon spent his life developing a branch of mathematics known as psychohistory, a concept of mathematical sociology (analogous to mathematical physics). Using the laws of mass action, it can predict the future, but only on a large scale; it is error-prone on a small scale. It works on the principle that the behaviour of a mass of people is predictable if the quantity of this mass is very large (equal to the population of the galaxy, which has a population of quadrillions of humans, inhabiting millions of star systems). The larger the number, the more predictable the future is.
Using these techniques, Seldon foresees the imminent fall of the Galactic Empire, which encompasses the entire Milky Way, and a dark age lasting 30 thousand years before a second great empire arises. Seldon’s psychohistory also foresees an alternative where the intermittent period will last only one thousand years. To ensure his vision of a second great empire comes to fruition, Seldon creates two foundations—small, secluded havens of all human knowledge—at “opposite ends of the galaxy”. The first Foundation is not aware of the existence of the Second Foundation. While the First Foundation is equipped with superior physical power, the second is made up of a group of people with special ability to read and tune the minds of others. They are called Mentalics. However Seldon and his plan is unable to see the emergence of a powerful mutant called Mule, who is a Mentalic as well. He threatens the very existence of the Empire and the Foundations. However the second foundation manages to stop the mule and restore order in the galaxy. They also create an impression in the minds of the first Foundationeers that they have vanquished the second foundation and hence remain anonymous as they should be.
I don’t have to elaborate the concerns we share and apprehensions we have about our future. Over the last one year, I have been studying a book called Designs for the Pluriverse – Radical Interdependence, Autonomy, and the Making of Worlds by Arturo Escobar. As an educator in art & design this book has been invaluable for me. We need to create many ‘new world makers’ to bring about a change in the world. This is now my focus when I teach. Urge students/aspiring practitioners/designers to move away from just making things, move away from designers for consumerism and to make new worlds.
“How does one design for a complex world? Instead of keeping on filling the world with stuff, what design strategies will allow us – humans – to lead more meaningful and environmentally responsible lives? “Asks John Thackara.
We live in a Pluriverse – a world made up of many worlds. The Neo Liberal and market force lead philosophies have strived and succeeded in clouding us in an illusion that we live in a homogenized world. Hence the designers of today and tomorrow have to think and work differently.
“Design needs to be transformed from an expert-driven process focused on objects and services within a taken-for-granted social and economic order towards design practices that are participatory, socially oriented, situated, and open ended and that challenge the business-as-usual mode of being, producing, and consuming.” Arturo Escobar
Is reducing consumption the only way to save our environment, knowing that most of our waste cannot be recycled and ends up in landfills, rivers and oceans? So do we need to teach our students to make good looking packaging which goes into the wastebasket soon after one removes the product? Or do we inspire them to think totally differently and come up with ideas for ‘non packaging?’
Why should human centered design mean largely UI/UX for screen? Stephen Johnson says in his book – Emergence that ‘neighborhoods are user interfaces to the city’ – So can Human Centred Designers work with Public Space Designers to design better neighbourhoods? Better bus stations?
Even the Covid 19 pandemic has shown that most of the problems we faced were due to bad or lack of design and processes. Good design thinking did help in mitigating problems. Can our designers work with the governments and administrations to change the system?
Can every design school of India produce at least 10 new world makers every year? Or will we be churning out more and more design graduates who will keep filling the world with stuff? We need to ask this question very seriously to ourselves.
In an interview published in Economic Times on 5 July, 2021 answering a question about leadership, venture capitalist Vinod Khosla said “In any decade, there are no more than 10,000 people (around 100 in each of the hundred different fields) that define a field or are going to change the course of society. And those are the leaders. So, I always urge young people to think whether they’re one of those 100 people in their chosen field who will make a difference.