Sharing friends and enemies, goals and authority

Diagram of four themes of post about friendship, authority, shared goals and shared enemies

This is a post to just set out some ideas of problems in Codesign and Service Design with communities and change in a world of fake news, populism and authoritarianism.

More particularly it is a post about the problems of friendship. Friendship that bridges between families to enable civic society yet also which can ensure civil war. Friendship that is enabled by social media and yet poisoned by it.


People will build and will fight with their friends. They will keep doing this way beyond what they would do for money or ideology.

Friendship is powerful. To be friends is pleasurable. To cease to be friends is painful.


People will obey and act under the command of authority. However, they will sabotage or strike when such authority seems illegitimate.

Authority is secondary to friendship. It is weaker, which is why threats and rewards are used so much, to achieve its commands.

People can be brought together by authority but they will keep working together because of friendship.

Shared goal

Friendship can be drawn from shared goals. Hobbies and projects, places and neighbourhoods can all create a shared sense of presence and purpose.

Authority can use institutions and offices, orders and policies to create shared goals.

Shared enemy

Authority uses shared enemies to bind people into groups for shared goals. It is a strong method as it is the inverse of friendship. The Out Group, the Other is projected as the opposite of friends, mates, ‘the guys’.

Why does this matter?

  • How to use codesign in neighbourhoods to achieve positive change without the need for institutions?
  • How to talk about future change when a community is ruptured by ideological hatred?

The first issue comes up in work on Service Design and how it relates to books like Rekindling Democracy and Humankind on human and neighbourhood-centred design. How to balance the power of friendship and shared goals with the power of institutional power and enemies? There is great worth in creating strong neighbourhoods that achieve things together but what if that comes at the price of exclusion?

The second issue comes up in so much of the news now. How can, for example, the UK or USA move forward when ideology and authority as abused both friendship and enemy-making to divide communities into groups that serve highly partisan goals? Friends, brought together by ideology, will keep acting together way past its failure.

As noted in Humankind, German soldiers kept fighting in WW2; not because they cared about Nazi ideology but because they cared for their pals. The situation was created and framed by authority and ideology but their continued action was in friendship. Friendships created by fake news and false authority can continue beyond the existence of that information and authority and this is a danger now.

Friendship is the heart of all this and what that means, what that feels like and how we talk about it matters.

Sensory Design Consultant, usability researcher and workshop facilitator. Twitter @acuity_design & @visceralUX