Hope in our hands

Alastair Somerville
4 min readFeb 23, 2020
Hope in our hands text overlaid on image of hands clasped

I’m writing a new talk for a conference in Poland in May (AceConf).

I’m extending and linking up some themes from talks at CanUX and CampDigital on the unique human capacities of autonoesis and awe.

This page is (as with transcendent design talk) a starting point as I try to put together ideas for the new talk.

These are the first draft of some slides.

The basic idea is that we hold in our hands certain hopes and our hands enable the action that takes us form imagination to transformation. Our hands are both tools and constraints.

You can watch a video of some of the slides on Youtube.

Here are a selection of image files.

3 rings over image of hands
Sense and Respond on either side of ring
OODA loop of Observe Orient, Design and Act
Imagination to Transformation via Autonoesis, Action and Awe
Autonoesis and Awe are bridges
From imagination to action
From action to transformation
3 rings over image of hands
Hands recoloured: pink as emotion, blue as community
Emotions and community

Edit – 26th February 2020

Some new words

This talk needs some new words as well as some new concepts.#

These two words are the most crucial.


From Merriam Webster, a definition of autonoesis:

awareness of one’s own existence as an entity in time : autonoetic consciousness Autonoesis refers to the kind of conscious awareness that characterizes conscious recollection of personal happenings. — Endel Tulving, in The Missing Link in Cognition: Origins of Self-Reflective Consciousness, 2005


From Merriam Webster, a definition of awe:

an emotion variously combining dread, veneration, and wonder that is inspired by authority or by the sacred or sublime

As parts of the model diagrammed above, autonoesis is central to every human experience but awe only appears occasionally. However, knowing that awe exists and that it is personally transformative (perhaps even transcendent) is important. To speak of hope and disappointment makes no sense without know that the personal territory for change is vast.


Hands as a metaphor is something that has been on my mind for a while. We talk of tools often in design but the hands seem more important.

Hands can hold tools but also offer comfort. Gestures can welcome and can stop. They make and they destroy.

Previous, for some sensory/emotional design work, I’d been working on idea of a cone.


How the choices we make are constricted by our emotions. We need to take action quickly, cognition is restricted and an action (possibly a stupid one) is taken.

We constrict ourselves.


Design can control us. What choices we can take are restricted by what is offered to us and what is obscured from our perception.

We are constricted.


Aspiration, from most research, appears innate and almost impossible to kill in humans. People aspire. It’s Homeostasis+ in action: moving forward, like this but better.

Hope in design however, is mostly about supporting the structures of achievement and winning. How to climb that mountain, to keep climbing that mountain, to stand victoriously on the summit.

How to design for the crucial moment of disillusionment is less well dealt with. How to support the decision and the capacity to try again or walk away?

Imagination is where hope starts and (dis)illusion is part of the symmetry: imagination as an illusion proved or disproved by action.

How to support individual emotions and capacities at this point seems important. How to ensure the person realises their autonomy in deciding to try or not.



Alastair Somerville

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