Design by Nature vs. Nature by Design
Keywords: Human-Centered Design, Gardening, Design, Exploration
My trials with the garden began with a mini-project in design school, where we were asked to examine a philosophic or poetic insight into the garden/act of gardening – which would later be helpful in determining its shape and structure.
It wasn’t until I launched an inquiry into it that I figured that a garden could be a perfect space for a truly effortless play on countless materials and ideas. And to me, as much as the activity of gardening was to work with my hands, it is also one where I always happen to talk to myself a lot. The talk often revolves around a sense of wonder and amazement at the more simpler truths in life. However, far from reiterating the virtues of gardening or the shades of zen it brings to the being (beliefs that I fully subscribe to), I wanted to reflect upon how my interests in growing and raising plants have come to percolate down into my practice of design at Quicksand.
Over the past few years of mulling the question of why I like to garden, I realize that while by definition planting seeds and growing plants is what it’s all about, true joy comes with bringing things to life. There is a relationship to be developed, a life to be celebrated and in all the u-turns and surprises when a plant decides to respond to mulching, fertilizing or picking off pests, those moments contribute to lasting memories that are stronger than any others. Ultimately – the end result will almost always include failures, and unexpected successes. The role of a gardener then is more of a steward, sometimes even observer, rather than a master of his/her domain.
It seems to me that we need to adopt a similar approach to conception of our solutions as designers, and to our lives in general. Although the now-established perception of design is that of a problem solving discipline, I wonder if we’d be better off as soon as we give up the idea that we can design “an answer”. Instead, what we need is to identify how we create the right growing conditions for healthy and productive solutions, investigate leverage points where we can provide support for ‘good’ growth, and restraint for the ‘bad’, and equally allow a diverse range of people, disciplines and communities to coexist with each other.
It seems to me that we need to adopt a similar approach to conception of our solutions as designers, and to our lives in general.
That’s not to say we can’t do some weeding and pest control. Critical evaluation is vital as we strive for aligning our practices to our vision. For instance, if we see an infestation of client projects that we see as counter-productive, then offering a reasoned and effective argument against them – and perhaps some plan Bs – becomes a valuable use of our time. But as with gardening, the process of weeding and pest control needs to be done selectively and judiciously with the end goal of a healthy overall system in mind.
As we navigate our way down from the precipice of large complex problems of scale, we need to reimagine the design of human systems and solutions by using the principles and patterns that make ecosystems work. Until then, we will only create more situations that require more energy than they produce, more depletion rather than replenishment, consumption rather than contribution, and extinction rather than regeneration. Time for me to get back to my raised beds.