All Design is Redesign

Peter Jones Wu Wei

So now also says Bruno Latour, in a keynote lecture given at History of Design Society, Falmouth, September 2008 “A Cautious Prometheus? A Few Steps Toward a Philosophy of Design.”

The fourth advantage I see in the word “design” (in addition to its modesty, its attention to detail and the semiotic skills it always carries with it), is that it is never a process that begins from scratch: to design is always to redesign. There is always something that exists first as a given, as an issue, as a problem. Design is a task that follows to make that something more lively, more commercial, more usable, more user’s friendly, more acceptable, more sustainable, and so on, depending on the various constraints to which the project has to answer. In other words, there is always something remedial in design.

I would add, there is nothing perfect in such an approach toward design or redesign. We move together toward a shared image that appears to others as a “progression” of designs. We muddle through, we bricolage, we construct multiple variations until one emerges as the better candidate. We race against time, and we also create WITH time. We leave some value on the table to pick up later, once we – the designers and object-participants – understand the designed situation a little better.

Latour does not have to contend with distinguishing himself as a designer. Rather than speak from his own understandings of design “as an object of design,” he (as always) explores the territory and asks awareness-expanding questions of the reader/listener.  He developed his perspectives in conversation with Peter Sloterdijk, the German philosopher whose orientation to design can be summed up as “humans and objects are both matters of grave and special concern.”

The idiom of matters of concern reclaims matter, matters and materiality and renders them into something that can and must be carefully redesigned. This might be far from the humanists’ limited view of what humans are, but it is every bit as removed from the post human dreams of cyborgs.

In a humane rather than a human-centered view, Latour has us consider the humanity of our own objects and spaces.