Aeons, Agency and Autonomy in Design For Planet

Alastair Somerville
3 min readApr 15, 2023
Simple text version of this post

The meaning of systemic worries me when talking about #SystemicDesign and I need to broaden it out in a few specific directions for #DesignCouncil #DesignForPlanet workshops over the next two weeks.

Systems as traps

Design and designers can too often get trapped within systems and processes.

factory scene in Metropolis movie

The old Scientific Management ideas of breaking work into measurable tasks that can be done by people whose humanity or skills don’t really matter (as the long term ideal is automation anyway). This is the idea of systems as factories.

The sense of self that is too small and too meaningless within the system.

The trapping within systems is also visible for activists who believe so strongly in change that they become unable to separate themselves from it. The Entangled Activist book is good on that sense of being caught up and broken by stress and scale of #ClimateCrisis.

The sense of self that is overwhelmed and crushed by the system that you let inside you.

Being human and humane in systemic design

What is needed is ability to be within and alongside systems.

The systemic design process as both somewhere to feel structure and direction and also something that can hold the stress and timescales that go beyond any one person and any one lifetime.

Systemic Design in sense of aeons, agency and automony.

Aeons

To be able to design and work over centuries and over the whole Earth.

This is the ecological perspective of being within many forms and scales of systems that emerge due to complexity.

Agency

To be able to design and work on projects and in communities in ways that are clear communicated and structured.

This is the process and structured thinking perspective of being in a system that is emerging with deliberate intent.

Autonomy

To anticipate that the system and other people will be able to hold the stress and meaning of a project when you feel too tired, overwhelmed or old.

This is the personal perspective when alongside the system.

Come along

The three meanings, Aeons, Agency and Autonomy, repeated in column version

There are three full-day FREE workshops to experiment with the Design Council’s systemic design framework and some tools and methods.

Stroud 19th April

Bristol 20th April

Online 27th April

If you want to attend – either email a.somerville@acuity.design or add a comment to this post.

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Alastair Somerville

Sensory Design Consultant, usability researcher and workshop facilitator. www.linkedin.com/in/alastair-somerville-b48b368 Twitter @acuity_design & @visceralUX