John Thackara | Essays

Designs of the Time (DOTT) [December 2005]

This free monthly newsletter starts conversations on issues to do with design for resilience — and thereby reveals opportunities for action. It also brings you news of Doors of Perception events and encounters. Back issues are now archived on Design Observer. To subscribe to future newletters by John Thackara click here.

Doors of Perception is to be part of a year-long festival of social innovation and service design, in the UK, called Designs of the Time, or Dott. Throughout 2007, the whole North East region of the UK will explore ways we can carry out familiar, daily-life activities in new ways. Dott, an initiative of the Design Council and the region's development agency, One North East (ONE) is about how an entire region might accelerate its transition to a less-stuff-more-people world. Software systems to help us share resources, and collaborate, will play an important part in this transition, but objects and technology will play a supporting role in Dott. And new principles - above all, sustainability - will inform the ways products and systems are designed, made, used, and looked after. As programme director of Dott (since a couple of weeks ago; it launches tonight) my task is to help communities throughout the North East region select, shape and run public commissions.The region, I have already discovered, is bursting with creative, radical and innovative grassroots projects. Dott will link these people and projects together, and thereby help the whole region emerge as a situated and distributed design school and lab. Helped by the BBC (radio, tv and websites) and local newspapers, and working with grassroots networks, we will engage with communities throughout the North East to determine what issues and projects are most important for them.This process will feed into the Dott programme as it takes final shape during the spring of 2006. This is one way the Doors of Perception network will be involved. We need connect projects in Dott with other projects in different parts of the world, and your help on this will be crucial. The climax of Dott will be an event in October 2007 called "The Creative Community Awards" (already nicknamed "The Commies") at which all the year's projects will come together to show what they achieved and to discuss what they learned. Doors will play a substantial role in that. At the same time, we will continue to develop plans for Doors of Perception 9, also in 2007, which will once again be a co-production in India with our friends at Centre for Knowledge Societies. And the Doors of Perception Report (this newsletter) and the Doors website/blog will continue as usual. Designs of the time is not about telling people in the North East of England how to live. On the contrary: its purpose is to enable local people- interacting with inspiring and visionary guests from around the world - to develop their own visions and scenarios for a sustainable region. In that sense, Dott is in the acorns business. Its most valuable legacy will be the people who stay behind, the projects they have started, and the design producer networks that develop as a result of its impetus. A brochure website for Dott is online now. Sign up there for a free newsletter. A new Dott website will be launched in the new year.

I'll be in Seoul next week (to speak at Design Korea 05 and would be delighted to meet any friends (or friends-of-friends) of Doors, who are also going to that event, or who are in town, the evening of Wednesday 30 November. Details at:

This is the title of a lecture I'm giving at the Royal Society of Arts in London on 12 December. It seems a good oppportunity to reflect on the lessons we learned at Doors 8 earlier this year in Delhi. I plan to talk about those lessons in the framework of solidarity economics. Details at:

The second in the Art Center Design Conference series, directed by Chee Pearlman, will explore the most advanced examples of craft in design, architecture, art, science, technology, story-telling, fashion, food, magic, and more. Headline speakers include Jonathan Ive, lead designer at Apple Computer; Isaac Mizrahi, fashion maestro and talk-show host; Claudy Jongstra, Dutch felt engineer and shepherdess; Bob Mankoff, cartoon editor, The New Yorker; and David Gallo, deep-sea explorer, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute.

Based on the Bavarian Pigeon Corps from 1903, in which homing pigeons were equipped with tiny cameras to take aerial shots from behind enemy lines, a project called Urban Eyes uses RFID and wireless technology to turn the once able urban pigeon into a chaotic agent and messenger of visual impressions from the road you never took. Read more at:

I learned at the University of Cincinnati recently that 98 percent of all US households containing babies use some disposable diapers, and that an American child can run through 8,000 to 10,000 of these products before becoming fully toilet trained at age three or later. This is in contrast to a baby born in East Africa where poor families use zero disposables and and "dryness is accomplished by five or six months". The context for this discussion is that disposable nappies (as we call them in the UK) are not "disposable" at all. Read more at:

Only in America: ethics has become a business. In the wake of Sarbanes-Oxley legislation, passed in 2002 in the wake of financial scandals such as Enron and Tyco, a lot of companies are struggling to cope with the complexities of compliance. As James Hyatt writes in BusinessEthics.com "corporations are rushing to learn ethics virtually overnight and, as they do so, a vast new industry of consultants and suppliers has emerged. The ethics industry has been born." More at:

"I'm exhausted just writing about this" says Thomas Friedman on page 170 of The World is Flat. The book does move swiftly along, but I'm sure its author is perked up by the $50k he just won as winner of the Financial Times/Goldman Sachs business book of the year award. "One cannot stress enough: Young Chinese, Indians and Poles are not racing us to the bottom, they are racing us to the top" writes Friedman. He adds that "in China, when you are one in a million, there are 1,300 other people just like you" and quotes the chairman of Intel saying that "they will get to the same level as us in a decade". Friedman writes brilliantly about the logistics that underpins the globalisation of smartness. UPS, we learn, maintains a think-tank, Operations Research Division, which works on supply-chain algorithms. Friedman travels widely, but he betrays scant understanding - and no empathy that I can detect - for the non-American cultures he dips into. Towards the end, Friedman's smug insularity turns nasty. Read more at:

I'm disconcerted to see that a sniper has shot the main speaker at Complexity and Design in the eye. Is our subject that controversial?

Jobs | May 26