The world has lost more than half of its wildlife in the last 50 years. While many look at how we can stop this from happening, a few look at how we can restore, renew or revitalize, and design not just for humans but for all life. We attended two Ironhack workshops on the topic by Laura Korčulanin, a pioneer design anthropologist specializing in Human-centered design and Life-centered approach. She is also the founder of Give a Shit project, a platform and action group focusing on integrated and holistic solutions for regenerative urban water management and ecological sanitation in cities. The project operates on unique frameworks using artivism (art+activism) for raising awareness, holistic education, consultancy, and research for the creation of integrated solutions.
With the workshops in question as a basis, we will introduce some approaches and practices that we need to adapt if we want to design for life, this includes life-centered approach, regenerative design, and systems thinking.
From Human-centered to Life-centered
Human-centered design has been advocated by Nobel Prize laureate Herbert Simon and is based on a philosophy that encourages people to design experiences, products, services, and systems that address the needs of those who experience a problem. Human-centered design has a very strong emphasis on human needs.
Although a Human-centered approach has been the focus of many designers in the past decades and we have been able to create more and better human-centric solutions, a shift is now on the rise. While we are creating solutions centered around human needs, we have started to ask ourselves if these solutions are adding to more problems. One example of this is plastic. From a human-centered approach, it could, to a degree, qualify as a good solution to some problems we have as humans. At the same time, it is creating more problems for our environment, among other things it is taking many years for it to decompose, destroying our nature and wildlife.
Where we are today is because we kept human desires in the center. Korčulanin stressed that there needs to be a more holistic and inclusive approach, a life-centered approach, where “people and nature enter every step of the research process”. To design for just humans doesn’t cut it anymore; we need to look at the bigger picture, the ecosystem that is out of balance, to start designing in such a way that it doesn’t harm life but improves it.
From Sustainability to Regenerative design
We have seen companies and designers address sustainability by implementing initiatives, processes and creating products that can help make less damage to the environment. To sustain what we have right now is the focus, or do less damage in the future. But the planet is in a place where we do not only need to sustain, we need to restore. How do we do that? Korčulanin suggests taking inspiration from nature, as “nature is bio-diverse and regenerative by default”. Maybe we do not need to reinvent the wheel, but instead, look at how to participate with the environment and use the health of ecological systems as a basis of design. That is what regenerative design is about, using design as a force to restore, renew or revitalize. A way of thinking focused on giving back more than we take.
From Design Thinking to Systems Thinking
Design thinking has made sense as the approach to use when designing for the human in the center. But how do you design when the center is life? Korčulanin emphasized systems thinking. While design thinking has a focus on creating and building up, system thinking has focused on breaking down systems into smaller parts in order to see the bigger picture. System thinking looks at how elements in a system are interconnected and how these elements act and relate in complex systems.
An emphasis on human needs for too long has been a contributor to the current state of the world, and a life-centered approach needs to become the new normal. Instead of focusing on how to lessen the damage of our products and services, we can design to restore, renew or revitalize. Therefore, we need to apply more systems thinking, where we break down systems into small components, as it can enable us to understand how elements are interconnected. By doing so, we can in fact, design for life.