Design as an idea may barely survive its own tremendous success. Is there any term more hollow? What might help? Would it help the conversation along if we were to agree that “Design” has become a bad faith alibi for not actually addressing difficult systemic issues that do require “redesign?” (“Sure we are responsible for the global spike in diabetes, but let’s have a open-source charrette on making our flagship store more usable,” said the VP of Design.) Would it help the conversation along if we drew-up a Bauhaus for the 21st century: ‘redesigning Design’ and training its interests less on consumer products and thoughtless apps, and more on what might be possible to do with synthetic biology, pervasive nanotechnology, ubiquitous computing at all scales, and algorithmic art, economics & geopolitics, etc? Would it help if, as a research university, we worked to articulate a more contemporary theoretical framework for Design going forward, one based less on objects vs. services and affect vs. utility, and more on “plots plus platforms”? We can talk about design as in “to designate” (to govern through material intervention) and we can talk about design as in “to have designs on something” (to plot and ensnare, to trap the user just-so). Let’s do both, yes? Would it help if we said that the bad news taken from the “Anthropocene” is that we’ve terraformed our host very quickly and very badly, but that the good news is that we’ve proven it is possible to geo-engineer a planet in short order because we’ve done it at least once? I hope that it would (and I would hope that it would provoke the question of what the “Post-Anthropocene” might be and needs to be.) In this talk, we will ask these and other related questions on behalf of some possible version of “Design” that is worthy of the name.
Benjamin H. Bratton is a theorist and strategist whose work spans Philosophy, Art and Design. At UCSD, he is Associate Professor ofVisual Arts and faculty coordinator of the MFA program, and is also Director of The Center for Design and Geopolitics and the Design Theory and Research Platform. Starting in Summer 2014, he is also Professor of Digital Design at The European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, Switzerland.
Before coming to UCSD, he taught Architectural and Design Theory at SCI_Arc (The Southern California Institute of Architecture) for 10 years and at UCLA Department of Design | Media Arts for 5 years. He is a frequent consultant to private and public organizations and was the Director of the Advanced Strategies Group at Yahoo! (where he collaborated on many very interesting projects eventually launched properly by Google.)
His research is situated at the intersections of contemporary social and political theory, computational media & infrastructure, architectural & urban design problems, and the politics of synthetic ecologies and biologies. Current work focuses on the political geography of cloud computing and the practical philosophy of everyday robotics.
His next book, The Stack: On Software and Sovereignty, is forthcoming from MIT Press.