Vast, Small, Big — 3 themes for Hope

Alastair Somerville
5 min readApr 4, 2020

Hope In Our Hands is a new workshop that comes out of research that I’ve been involved in lately coupled with a general sense of the need for more Hope in design.

The workshop will have a three part structure and this post explains why.

Vast, Small, Big

The three parts are Vast, Small and Big and they both frame and explain the problems and opportunities of design for Hope (from my perspective).

The workshop flow is simple and is based (as all workshops I design are) on experiential learning and shared experiences.

Problems of designing a workshop about Hope

The key problem is how to talk about design for Hope and experience it.

Simply to explain the theory and structures of Hope would never be enough. To force a design problem or topic upon workshop participants would not work. You cannot push Hope onto a person. They need to choose to feel it.

In addition, any Hope felt in a workshop cannot be too huge. It cannot be about world-changing aspirations because there is simply not enough time in any workshop and, more importantly, the workshop is about design for Hope as felt by users, whoever they are. Using an enormous theme of a specific kind of Hope would be a decoy from the user-centered design problem.

So Hope must be felt but in a small way. We’ll get back to that near the middle of this post.


Understand the vast capacities of humans

I work in human-centered and sensory design and one of the points I keep having to make is how extraordinary the capacities of humans are.

It is easy to be overwhelmed by new technology, like Artificial Intelligence and automation, and think that humans seem weak and a bit foolish. Behavioural design can make humans look like idiots, filled with biases and easily manipulated to do what is needed.

Minimising the capacities of people and minimising the honesty of social relationships has a toxic effect upon Hope.

The Vast section of the workshop is the only ‘lecture-style’ part. It is important as it reframes humans as bigger than any technology we have invented. Appreciating the vastness of human capacity is the way to enable design for Hope as a positive goal that is important and achievable.

Autonoesis and Awe

I’m not going to fully explain these ideas here but Autonoesis and Awe are the two uniquely human capacities that seem relevant here.

  • The ability to use imagination and feel yourself in future experiences, fully.
  • The ability to experience, find meaning and accommodate life-changing moments.

Both of these ideas have come up in consciousness and transcendence work over the last couple of years and they are crucial to understanding how extraordinary all humans are and how Hope exists in alignment with them.


Experience hope together in small shared actions

‘To design for Hope, you need to have felt Hope’ is a critical point. As mentioned at the begining, this is a absolutely necessary part of the workshop. Feeling Hope so as to understand its experience and the problems that design can help with.

For the workshop, Hope will be in teaching and learning small things.

Teaching and learning

The Hope to learn is strong in people. To do something new, to do something better. It is this Hope that we will share in the workshop. Sharing skills and knowledge together in moments of teaching and learning.

What will be taught and learnt will depend on who is in the room. Participants will be told before the workshop that sharing a skill will be something they can offer to do (an invitation not a demand tho). Also we can always access some of the many, many YouTube videos on new skills.

All of this is to approach the Big moments of Hope. These are the ones we need to feel so we can then talk about how design can enable and support.


To design to help each other with big problems

Using the framing of Vast and Small, enables discussion of the Big issues with design for Hope. The actual moments of trying and trying again.

These are emotionally charged and enabled moments.

Hope is an act of bravery.

  • To try needs inspiration and resolution
  • To try again needs resolve after disillusion

This is why the Vast framing is needed. Humans possess Autonoesis to use their imagination and experiences to attempt a new action, based in Hope. Humans possess capacities to accommodate Awe. Not all experiences are lovely and satisfying, they are also terrifying and disappointing. The illusions we create in our imagination can fail when we enact them. This is why disillusionment is so important. A moment when we need to re-orient and find resolve to try again.

Inspiration to resolution and Disillusion to Resolve

These two moments, to bravely try and to try again, are where design can be deeply humane and helpful.

  • To enable people to try
  • To support people to try again

What ideas people come up with is a matter for the workshops and for participants’ future work.

The workshop exists to provide a clear framing, solid foundations and straightforward questions.

Sign Up for more

This is the first post about this new workshop and, I hope, sets out what it’s generally about.

Use the Hope In Our Hands Contact Me page to send an email.

The workshops will run later this year but it all depends on demand from people, conferences and organisations, I would love to help share ideas of Hope, I need your support to do so.

First posted on HopeInOurHands



Alastair Somerville

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