Attentive and Appreciative: Designers Connecting with More-Than-Human Beings
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This essay considers a design student project that practised methods and languages for connecting designers with the more-than-human. The term refers to ecologist David Abram’s phrase “the more-than-human world” as a way of considering our entanglement with earthly nature. Alongside ecological thinking, we drew upon New Zealand Māori and Canadian First Nation scholars and worked with local cultural advisors. This project was offered across two design classes, beginning with one in Vancouver, Canada, and the other in Dunedin, New Zealand, with a six-week synchronous window. These schools connected through DESIS, a network of labs that research social innovation and sustainability. Teachers and students were able to share their approaches and progress online, culminating in an online exhibition and conversation. Key ideas explored included Karl Wixon’s “whakapapa-centred design” and Robin Wall-Kimmerer’s “grammar of animacy,” indigenous values that centre the natural world as sentient and present with the world of humans. Students were tasked with becoming advocates for a more-than-human being. They drew upon multiple frames to learn about this being and conceive of possible different relationships. After conducting a series of immersive research activities including meditative, phenomenological and academic approaches, students drew upon their design skills to translate and share their learning. The outcomes are a variety of prototypes, designed to share this advocacy as experiences for others. Through a combination of online and embodied learning, many explorations brought to light understandings about the fundamental interconnectedness of humans with the earth, with all species and with each other.
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