Transformation towards sustainable societies can never be about standardised universal solutions. It may not be about solutions at all, but rather about managing predicaments. The contexts in which we work can only be understood at a level of specificity that allows us to observe the workings of individual groups and locally-based tailored solutions that are strongly shaped and bound to the local situation. This means that there is the need to start from local assets, opportunities, and challenges.
It is key to anchor processes among local communities alongside institutions. Moreover, to engage people in transforming their values and perspectives, it is key to “meet them where they stand”, and to start from their concerns, needs, fears, and hopes to develop processes that are not only relevant to their interests but are able to deeply engage them.
Design, as a practice, tackles issues by intertwining problem framing (the definition of what the problem is) with problem solving (the definition of possible solutions to the problem). The process is iterative. The driver of the process is positing and making. By trying out possible solutions, and evaluating the outcomes of these trials, it becomes possible to advance understanding of both what the problem is and how it could be addressed. As it engages both with defining problems and solving problems, design practice is fundamentally a creative effort. Problems are not taken for granted but rather questioned and opened up. Design uses reflection and imagination to redefine problems and how they could be tackled.
Co-design, or collaborative design, is a particular form of design practice with an emphasis on how the design is produced: rather than being driven and defined by a designer, it involves different actors in the shaping of the process of understanding and addressing an issue. This can be as far up-stream as identifying that a design is needed, or once a focus has been established. There might be different levels of co-design, it can be about developing and testing a solution together and/or actually also defining a problem together.
Co-design entails a shift from designing for a community, a situation or a network of actors, to designing together with them. The main point is that it involves diverse actors in establishing the key issues and how to address them – in context and representing the interests of all those potentially affected. Thus, when we talk about more-than-human co-design, we are talking about ensuring that non-human elements of the living world are adequately represented too.
Co-designing in the context of the more-than-human, as the Bauhaus of the Seas Sails has committed to do, stretches the definition of designing with others. We are still at an experimental stage in doing work that includes non-human stakeholders and it is challenging to work with and explain these new dynamics to some of the human entities who are also concerned to have a stake in sustainable initiatives. Yet in this process we are producing a refinement of relations, as well as cultural focal points for these new relations in the demonstrator pilots are aiming to design and develop as part of our commitment to sharing a vision of co-living and co-designing by the seas.
Download the Bauhaus of the Seas Sails co-design template, co-authored by Anna Seravalli, Ann Light and Anders Emilson of Malmö University, here.