13 June 2007

John Thackara on designing with people to address climate change

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John Thackara, programme director of Dott 07 (and featured this week in Business Week as a top cutting-edge designer) shares his opinion on design and sustainability in this month’s edition of Blueprint Magazine.

“As designers, are we guilty of killing the planet? Eighty percent of the environmental impact of the products and buildings that surround us is determined at the design stage, after all. The ways we have designed the world force most people to waste stupendous quantities of matter and energy in their daily lives. Playing the blame game is pointless. Yes, humanity has trashed the biosphere by design – but the best way to redeem ourselves is to become part of the solution. […]

[We need] to wise up to the fact that there’s a truly gigantic design opportunity here. Someone has to redesign the structures, institutions and processes that drive the economy. Someone has to transform the material, energy and resource flows that, left unchecked, will finish us. […]

Transformation on this scale won’t happen if we approach it top-down. In Dott 07 in North East England, we are not telling people to behave sustainably. We are designing, with them, more sustainable ways to organise daily life – ways that bring material benefit in the immediate term. Our idea is that if these small steps succeed, even in part, then others can quickly follow suit, better and faster. This way, governments can focus on removing obstacles to change, rather than try to lead it from the top.

Dott 07 is not about traditional design. We don’t design artefacts at all unless they are a necessary part of a sustainable solution. We don’t design communication campaigns telling people how to be green. We’re spending very modestly on our big festival, in October, where the focus is mainly on people, not things.

We’re doing a lot of design, but we’re doing it with the people of the North East, not for them.

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