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Last week John Thackara, director of Doors of Perception and author of In the bubble: designing in a complex world, lectured at the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) on Solidarity economics and design: life after consumerism.

The word ‘development’ implies that we advanced people in the North have the right or even obligation to help backward people in the South to ‘catch up’ with our own advanced condition. No, it doesn’t make sense. The concept of development is further devalued by the impoverished but destructive mindset of economics. The North’s purse strings are clutched by people who define development narrowly in terms of growth, jobs and productivity – and ignore broader measures of sustainability and well-being.

A renewed sensitivity to context, and to social relationships, is a key aspect of the transition from mindless development to design mindfulness. But even this new approach can be a mixed blessing. One b-school professor now talks about “harvesting lifestyles”. By what right do we swan around distant cities capturing information about people’s lives?

If we are to exchange value – rather than just take it, or act like cultural tourists – what do we have to offer? One contribution is that fresh eyes can reveal hidden value and thus mobilise otherwise neglected or hidden local resources. Visiting designers can act like mirrors, reflecting things about a situation that local people no longer notice or value. Shamefully, too many visiting designers promise
local people they will do this, but never get around to sharing their conclusions and documentation.

Click here to download the first half of the lecture (25 mb)

Click here to download the second half of the lecture (24 mb)

Click here to download the question and answer session after the lecture (40 mb)

Click here to download an edited version of the lecture as a podcast (29 mb)