A Manifesto for Designers for Humanity

I know we are swamped by manifestos. Even brands have manifestos.

Although the power these (manifestos) once had to ignite the imagination and active participation of people has dwindled over time, I still think manifestos provide a good way of clarifying what an initiative is about and a good way for values to be explained and also, importantly, it provides accountability.

So here we go…

DfH Manifesto

  1. We are all designers.

We have this idea that design is something you must study, that it is a discipline and you need to have credentials to design.

We think of design as a high culture activity or as a highly accurate process that produces measurable, scalable results.

And that is understandable since much of our economic progress has been brought about by design innovations in these terms, so it’s easy to place design in a space of academia and industry.

But Design is a skill we all have, it’s not something we must learn how to do. It comes naturally through need and ingenuity.  So we often see great designers where there is great lack.

We can learn processes that help us create solutions that can be replicated and explained; through education these processes and techniques can be harnessed and scaled, but the ability to design is actually human nature.

We are born designers. We design tools that exponentially increase the strength of our bodies, we design larger brains to store information, we design new economic systems, we design new policies that can either help or hinder, we design new materials, and also, we design stories.

The activity of design, as we understand it here, is as part of human nature as language and communication are.

Everything around us is designed. Everything around us supports a designed story: a purposefully created narrative. When we realise that stories and culture are at the core of every single human invention, we realise the power stories and belief systems have on our present and future lives.

Our natural tendency to design is so strong that we even want to redesign nature, failing to understand, in our design-frenzy, that we are only one of the many natural systems and as such we must live in balance amongst them all.

So we begin by democratizing design. We can all design and the tools to do so must be available to all. Our ability as designers has helped put us all in this mess. Now it’s our responsibility as designers to help us design a New Way.

  1. Design as a tool for empowerment

Designers look for problems and needs and then create solutions that fit those needs and solve those problems, in the most efficient and resourceful way.

But the responsibility of design doesn’t end there.

We, as designers, must also empower. Designers can empower the disadvantaged- empowering people from the ground up through clean energy, education and equal access to opportunities.

So we begin by empowering the dis-empowered, the disadvantaged, and the poorest. We provide tools and systems that help them gain skills and in turn transfer those skills to people around them to create larger community benefits.  It can be through education, through free clean energy, through small scale agricultural innovations, through micro –credit to help women become entrepreneurs, etc.

All of these designed empowering solutions have a measurable impact on the ground as well as a psychological one as people realize they can change their circumstance. Design helps create a balance and gives people a chance to thrive, rather than just survive.

  1. Designers nurturing diversity.  The problems we face today are complex and cross borders, so any approach to tackle some of these challenges must embrace the complex nature of these issues as well as encourage a diverse pool of skills and voices to draw from. The social capital we have across cultures is immense and by listening and sharing new ideas, processes and methodologies, we can create a massive snowball of radical change that can provide an alternative framework for our future.
  2. Designers challenging decaying paradigms. We are still operating under old narratives that have proven to be antagonistic towards nature. New narratives are being constructed where living in harmony with nature is at the very core.  Our efforts must support these new narratives and help them become pervasive quicker.
  3. Nature as teacher. Nature is the ultimate innovator. It has successfully created thousands upon thousands of perfectly functioning systems, all working together interdependently and in harmony. Can we not, then, learn from Nature and create systems and products that support our creativity as well as the abundance of nature?

This principle is really key. Nature doesn’t waste anything. In nature the word waste has no meaning at all. Everything is the nutrient of something else. From one system’s decay, comes another’s birth.

So in nature everything is interconnected. You cannot go and change something in one part of the macro-system and not have any consequences in another. Nature is a hyper-sensitive, living grid. An interconnected system where any disruption on one side, will cause a corresponding disruption on the opposite side.

So when we change how we interact with nature and its systems and we begin to see nature as a teacher, we begin to listen. Through listening we learn.

Jannine Banyus is at the forefront of Biomimicry. And Biomimicry does precisely that: it listens to Nature to design innovations. It learns from Nature’s resilient and highly efficient systems to create solutions that address our needs.

Some of the main points in Biomimicry are for example,  encouraging biodiversity, resource efficiency, leveraging cyclic processes, building form the ground up, taking into account local resources and energy, etc.

This leads me to the next principle:

  1. Waste as Resource. The challenge of waste management is huge. A well-known statistic is that by 2050, 75% of the population on earth will live in cities, this will bring unimaginable challenges in many areas but how we manage our waste is certainly one of the most important ones.

The problem with waste is a problem of perspective. If we create industries that use waste as their core resource we can begin to eradicate some of the garbage currently being dumped in landfills.

Another challenge here is cultural, so, how do we improve the perception of waste? How can we create value using waste? How can we use waste streams as feed stock for other processes? How can we generate clean waste?

One approach is to create useful industrial applications for waste, for example in Biomass conversion systems, where organic waste can be used to generate energy, but another way too is to use waste to create beautiful and meaningful products.

Naturally, different waste materials need different approaches, but for the main urban waste streams such as plastic, glass, food, paper, card and textiles, we can design products that use the natural qualities of these materials to produce either energy or new products.

Another issue with waste is, of course, the problem with our throwaway culture. This problem is exacerbated by marketing strategies and the industries’ constant hunger for more growth, more sales, etc. Advertising sells the fantasy and the industry delivers it, regardless of the impact on the very soil we walk on. That needs to change.

The problem is the story. The problem is the systems we have created around the belief that industries purpose is growth and profit.

But what if we created businesses and systems whose main purpose was to nurture both the local communities and the local ecosystems?

The only difference between that and what we have now is the story.

Cory Doctorow, a science fiction writer said: “ If we change the story we tell ourselves about the future, we change the future itself”.

That’s what we must do: change our story, today.

  1. The next imminent challenge is clean energy. Energy is at the core of all human activity: it powers agriculture that feeds us, it gives us shelter and warmth, it helps us amplify our own bodies through mechanized tools, it allows us to build cities, to transport goods, etc  in short, energy creates and supports civilization. The first step in creating sustainable development is by providing cheap clean energy.  We need energy to breathe, to sustain our bodies, to create value, to create connections, to think, to move and transport goods. In short, our lives on earth depend on energy.  Access to clean energy is a human right. We have examples of clean energy all around us: our bodies generate energy in the form of heat, our body movements can generate energy. Nature itself gives us thousands of examples of energy generating processes. Gravity can produce energy,  the force of water, the force of the wind, the energy from the sun, chemical processes create energy,  the earth itself is a huge energy ball. We just need to continue to support the creation of clean sources of energy, through innovative thinking and multidisciplinary approaches.Some of the issues with access to electricity are grid problems, so how can we create small scale, mobile solutions to take power to remote areas? How can we create resilient systems that distribute clean energy solutions?Where people live in darkness, we must bring light.
  2. Empower women as a way to create social change and prosperity.   When you empower and educate one woman, the benefits are shared. The first thing she does is feed her children, then she puts a roof on her home to keep the rain out, then she puts her children to school, then she invests in a sewing machine or a cow and creates income.  She then tells her sisters and their friends in the community and soon after a whole village thrives.  So to create long-lasting change that impacts generations, empowering and educating women is crucial. Gender inequality and violence are still rampant in most societies today. A society cannot prosper if half of its population is undermined, abused and exploited. Sustainable development initiatives must place women at the center of their programs to ensure the next generations will receive the benefits of more education, better health, equal access to wealth, etc.

We only have one earth, one home, and as much as our ability as designers, engineers and innovators has taken us this far. Technology will not save us. Changing the story will.

Diana Simpson Hernandez

Founder of Designers for Humanity

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