Revolution by Design: my TEDxOxbridge talk

It’s no big secret that government can be dysfunctional. Entire TV series have been based around this premise. Working day in day out with both politicians and policymakers, it’s a norm I, too, am familiar with. And yet, the other half of my job, working with designers, has given me some unexpected insights into exactly why common governmental approaches to tackling problems rarely achieve their aims. It was this collection of observations that I tried to distil into my 15 minutes at TEDxOxbridge in June. And if this sparks any thoughts/ observations of your own, I’m all ears.

1 thought on “Revolution by Design: my TEDxOxbridge talk”

  1. Jocelyn – I enjoyed your TEDx talk (online) – it is provocative and there are valuable points about the role of designers and the way they think, their practicality, materiality, and especially the notion of experimentation.
    But I would take issue with the notion of politics, and also in turn the notion of design. It seems to me that we can look at the world through a lens of design (and in a way it is an extension of science and technology and empiricism, and in a way an extension of the Romantics’ project of resurrecting the world on the basis of aesthetics). We can also look at the world through a lens of politics. We can find politics everywhere if we wish – in terms of power and how it is handled, mediated, held to account etc. – at every level from the family up to super-states and global organisations.
    Design therefore has an inherent politics to it. Although there are certainly circumstances in which politicians might benefit from thinking like designers, design does not need to be connected to politics or give lessons to politics, or replace politics, because it already is politics of a kind.
    Your notion of politics seemed to be a critique of party politics – which is a very narrow idea (and party politics is arguably dysfunctional not due to an excess of politics but to a virtual absence of politics), and a rejection of ideology – which characterises our age.
    But one could argue that there is de facto an ideology remaining, one that is simply largely unchallenged – because it is in the ascendency. This is capitalism, and a particular kind of globalised capitalism. It is true that there is an environmentalist critique of sorts around, but little in the way of an alternative vision of the way an economy might function – just that it would be more ‘green’ or ‘sustainable’.
    To be apolitical can therefore be seen as another kind of politics. It is true, to take your example, that an imaginative approach to ‘austerity’ might deliver more, using the kind of imaginative and practical and empirical approaches that designers can do so well. But we ought not to forget, surely, that ‘austerity’ itself – is designed. It is not a force of nature.
    An application of the qualities and skills of designers and the way they think – has much to commend it. But the apolitical is also political, and design is inherently political. It was Walter Benjamin who warned of the aestheticisation of politics – and I think, even in the 21st century, it is still a salutary warning.

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