Designing the Design Common
I’m a member of the Design Common, a space that was established in late 2011 to explore new approaches to co-creation and sustainable design. It’s been exciting and challenging to be involved in the building of a working environment that mirrors the world I want to see — democratic, participatory, creative, and sustainable (in the broadest and most inclusive sense of the word).
The Design Common has grown organically and in energetic bursts. Yesterday, we sat down together at the first DC retreat to map out with more intention and consensus exactly how we want to create this shared laboratory. We didn’t get nearly as far along as we’d hoped, but there were some important insights that came out of the day.
I have never before participated in community building with other designers. Designers by definition solve problems, so the retreat was the first time I’ve seen a group of people elaborate exponentially more solutions than problems, which was both beautiful and overwhelming. With such a surplus of creativity and a limited amount of time and energy, how will we make this space what we want it to be? And with a group that is so focused on foresight, how can we become comfortable with imperfect solutions so we can adapt and iterate better ones?
As with any collaborative volunteer endeavour, there is the risk of the Design Common becoming a source of guilt and resentment. Guilt if one doesn’t have enough time or energy to contribute meaningfully to its development; resentment if one feels their meaningful contributions are not acknowledged or appreciated. These two entirely useless emotions can poison a collaborative effort. How will we ensure that the act of building the space is a source of nourishment and creative energy and not anxiety? Are there solutions that don’t involve overloading us with communication and emotional processing? Designers want to make stuff, not talk about making stuff.
We also realized that we had been neglecting the physicality, the materiality, of the Design Common. In our excitement about the kinds of projects we’d create in this space and how this space would be connected to the outside world, we’d forgotten that the space itself needs tending to. We needed drawing supplies, work lamps, music, clean surfaces in order to just come in, be present, and make magic happen.
And that’s what I love about the Design Common — the magic. The joke that pops up over lunch and we jam on until it’s a fully formed idea. The answer I get to a question I ask that solves a slew of problems I’ve been puzzling over for days. The buzzy chatter of a bunch of people creating in the same space that drowns out just enough of my internal critic so I can sit down and make cool stuff.