I had a bit of fun writing this abstract for ICSID 2009, to be in Singapore.
A new beginning for teaching Design for Sustainability
The project of design’s engagement with sustainability over the past two decades has been fraught; one, the discourse has been about consumption and western lifestyles, and two, the construction of the practice of sustainability has been reactive. For a long time design positioned itself as a profession that would react to design briefs set by a client and this directly created a format for design for sustainability as an activity of redesign. When engineering adapted methodologies of manufacturing practice, such as TQM and value engineering, to include issues of pollution they created new specializations of engineering that could handle incremental transformation of product manufacturing towards more environmentally appropriate practice. The fact that big industry would not be needing designers to work of the eco-redesign of their products did not dawn on the profession of design and even less on design academies. This fact of being repeatedly rendered irrelevant in the discourse of sustainability is the essential character of design’s engagement with sustainability over the past two decades. However this fact is not acknowledged and quite effectively hidden as the profusion of published outcomes allows design to talk within its community of practitioners without needing to seek acknowledgement from the wider world. As a marginal discourse sustainability is high profile and very visible in exhibitions, websites and books. Queried as a valid practice with examples of best practice design has little to show. I propose to create a still point where we can pause and ask if the new fascination with service design and social innovation is valid in its claim to be the new face of design for sustainability. I propose that it is not though it does expose a fundamental flaw in the way the practice of design was constructed in the last century. I then go on to show that the emerging trends point to interesting possibilities of reinventing the profession and for the complete transformation of the way we look at studio practice in design education.