Design Prose

In The Bubble: Designing in a Complex World by John Thackara

Posted in Books, Built Environment, City Scapes, Sustainability, Uncategorized by designprose on November 10, 2011

John Thackara of Doors of Perception book named In the Bubble: Designing in a Complex World is the book which I cherished page by page as it unfolded various design challenges, questioned my perception and provoked me to think deeply as a designer who would claim to design part of spaces, built environment in tomorrow’s world. Book does not provide any packaged solutions but it did not claim to do so ever. It provides a perspective, a different one and perhaps a little more and challenges all of us in this system to critically understand where we are in terms of time and technology from where we were few decades ago and how all this will impact the design world of future.

In the initial chapters he explains,

I believe that a desirable future depends on our deliberately choosing life of action, over a life of consumption.

Urban planners need to pay as much attention to social networks as soft infrastructure as they do now to the hard infrastructure of roads and railways.

After the initial exuberance its now clear that wireless communication networks are an additional layer of infrastructure- not a replacement of the physical city.

He talks fair amount of what resulted through industrialized model of education and enforced standardized testing of skills that have come to fail, even to a current system.

There is a kind of mismatch between the kind of learning prescribed by these enlightened experts and what many employers perceive to their short-term needs. As a result, of this mismatch, the school to work transition has become increasingly difficult phase, and many employers now take their own training measures. They tend to be heavy on applied skills- light on metacognitive ones. We might reject the narrow focus of much corporate education but its partly our own fault as a society. We have filled our world with such unstable technology and clunky systems; these need to be looked after by people with limited horizons who do what they are told and don’t ask too many questions. Call centers- to name just one of among a thousand support functions in our technological culture- don’t recruit people with metacognitive skills who look at the bigger picture. They need drones.

Stuck inside organizations that perpetuate divisions between domains and that isolate knowledge from the context in which it is to be used, we become less competent at tackling complex and multidimensional social questions. If our connections to the edge are inadequate, we find it hard to figure out what people really need and end up pushing products that they don’t.

This explains our dependency and interrelated nature of existence and why monoculture emphasis will be myopic in its results and often short-term. He goes on to explain,

What we have now come to appreciate is that the more diverse an ecological system is- be it a swamp or a city, the richer it is. Sprawling monocultural suburbs, multilane highways, golf courses, airports and the like are impoverished contexts. Our speed culture fosters particularly barren contexts. Very large grids, very big global hubs and the massive flows of people and matter in between them are functional but not nourishing.

That is why application of ‘high-concept’ design to contexts we barely understand is irresponsible and probably counterproductive.

Because designs based on accelerated time-frame, bloated massive sizes and our fascination towards large and fast may not be addressing the core needs of the human ecology and perhaps not connecting with ourselves internally. In such cases, we might be experiencing things externally but not feeling them internally through variety of emotions.  As Thackara puts it,

Trust accrues through time and is built during encounter and interaction between people; it cannot be digitized and it cannot be rushed.

And thus spaces designed mechanically ignoring the subtle sensitivities of human nature and interactions miss their expansive fertile nature of minds which inhabit them. And much of these office designs still continue to deal with interrelated aspects of materials, flow, adjacency, digital artifacts and much more of digital facilitation of work but puts human beings not as front runners but as a backdrop. So the prime intention becomes a useful backdrop but not the prime subject to be built from or around.

This book opens multiple opportunity of dialogues and triggers you to think carefully as designers and consumers to things and services that we make use of and how it alters our relationship and behavior and system as a whole. It nudges you to be careful and sensitive in our everyday choices, be cognizant of patterns as consumers to passive participatory witnesses and consumers of events and how it all might impact this system as a whole.

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