All design is redesign

A recent Bruno Latour keynote[PDF] has been making the rounds on the Anthrodesign mailing list.

Called “A Cautious Prometheus?”, it is a very concise and thoughtful dissection of the changes the word and concept ‘design’ has been undergoing for the past 30-40 years, which also signals the change from “the hubris of modernity” with its bold hope of revolution, of tearing everything down to rebuild anew, towards a more nuanced view of design as the re-designing of the present:

As a concept, design implies a humility that seems absent from the word ‚??construction‚?Ě or ‚??building‚?Ě. Because of its historical roots as a mere addition to the ‚??real‚?Ě practicality, sturdy materiality and functions of daily objects, there is always some modesty in claiming to design something anew. In design there is nothing foundational. It seems to me that to say you plan to design something, does not carry the same risk of hubris as saying one is going to build something. Introducing Prometheus to some other hero of the past as a ‚??designer‚?Ě would doubtlessly have angered him.

Latour suggests that we need to combine the cautiousness of the designer, carefully seeking re-configure the world around him, with the boldness of Prometheus, willing to attempt the impossible to ignite our dreams. An empathic visionary who can manage the complexities that his actions inevitably produce.

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