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Emergent Design. What Does It Mean?

Originally Published by Todd, February 22, 2008

Going through my archives earlier in the week, I uncovered “Slow + Design” a manifesto of a “slow approach to distributed economy and sustainable sensoriality” that was published in preparation for a 2006 seminar on the subject taking place in Milan.

Using the Slow Food movement as a starting point, the authors first outline the slow approach as

the simple, but in current times revolutionary, affirmation that it is not possible to produce and appreciate quality if we do not allow ourselves the time to do so, in other words, if we do not activate some kind of slowdown. However, slow does not only mean this. It also means a concrete way of actually putting this idea into practice. It means cultivating quality: linking products and their producers to their places of production and to their end-users who, by taking part in the production chain in different ways, become themselves coproducers.

Turning to “design”,

we can observe that a “new design” is emerging: a design that adopts a systemic view, that looks at the complexities of social networks, develops a capacity for listening and interrelates with the creativity and diffuse entrepreneurship that characterise contemporary society. In so doing it becomes an active part of the transformation processes underway and in those that must take place, confronted as we are with the enormous issues at stake.

These passages — and many others in the 27-page document — resonate as strongly with me today as they did when I first encountered the manifesto a year and a half ago. From my perspective as a Process Designer grounded in the practices and methods of MG Taylor, my fascination is in seeing how “slow design” can enable groups, organizations and communities to accelerate their path toward solutions.

I call this “expanding time to compress time.”

It is a response to the question, “What is the role of slow in an event designed specifically to compress weeks, months or even years worth of design and decision making into a few days?” I claim that

robust processes can, over the course of just a few hours, greatly expand the volume of thought and feeling a group holds collectively in their minds within a given moment. And over the course of a few days, it is possible to increase this volume of thought and feeling by an order of magnitude – or more. Thus, this expansion has the equivalent effect of slowing down time while, paradoxically, enabling a corresponding compression in the time it takes a group of people to discover, design and decide together — without compromise — their course of action.

In opening a significant space for imagination, conjecture, play, modeling and iterative design, the processes that The Value Web utilize enables participants to engage in a way that is comprehensive, holistic, inclusive, reflective and considered, facilitating evolutionary and emergent solutions to take form over an incredibly short period of time.
Todd Johnston

PS> The Slow Design movement has grown considerably over the past couple of years. If you’d like to learn more, here are a few starting points:

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