Mobile Phone Street Hack Station, Hong Kong
Street Market Hacking Stall, Hong Kong. Photo: Scott Burnham

To launch my publication “Finding the Truth in Systems: In Praise of Design Hacking”, London’s Royal Society for Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) is hosting an event on 14 October 2009 to open the dialogue on design hacking.

The RSA commissioned me to write the text as an overview and exploration of ways in which individuals are taking design decisions into their own hands by hacking, reconfiguring and reworking the products, systems and spaces that make up our lives. The publication and event are part of the RSA’s Design and Society programme, which states:

“Contemporary society needs to be more resourceful: its citizens more engaged, self-reliant and collective in their striving. A combination of professionalisation, bureaucracy and consumerism has reduced our resources of common competence and as citizens we often appear to be less resourceful than ever. At the same time our consumption has diminished the earth’s resources and we now have fewer resources of energy and natural material at our disposal.”

– Emily Campbell, RSA Director of Design

It is from this perspective that “Finding the Truth in Systems: In Praise of Design Hacking” is launched. Design hacking is the resourcefulness of the individual stepping in when the products and systems we are offered fall short. In the text I explore ways in which this is being done as a response to both the limitations of resources and economies in the developing world, and the imbalances which exist in the products, systems and cities of developed regions. I feel that hacking methodologies and philosophies hold profound benefits, as I explore in some of the topic areas in the text:

  • Hacking creates new engagements between the product and the consumer
  • Hacking mandates relevance and necessity in design
  • Hacking is resourceful
  • Hacking creates abundance from limited resources
  • Hacking finds the truth in systems

And when it’s not being summised in bullet points, the text goes like this:

Hacking gives people a voice. Hacking creates new realities, options and possibilities from those we are given, whether commercial, social or civic. It offers forth the notion of a democratisation of design, by enabling the end user to be part of the process and not only on the receiving end of it. There is a triumphant message of individual resourcefulness and direct engagement when a hacker sensibility is applied.

Most of all, hacking is evidence of our fundamental self-reliance in spite of professionalism, bureaucracy and industrial supply. In many ways, it is a return to, or a rediscovery of, the skills which saw us through our pre-consumerist times, when ‘making do’ with what you had to hand required inventiveness. To relegate such activity to the realms of ‘amateurism’ is a dangerous dismissal, for it not only further deepens the ‘us and them’ disconnect between design and society, but ignores the vast potential of the creative energies at work outside established channels.

I will make the PDF of the publication available here after it is launched in dead tree form next week. For those of you in, near, or visiting London, I invite you to come to the event. Famed fashion hacker Otto van Busch will present an overview of his work, with Sunday Times journalist Colin Mcdowell, Dr Paul Thompson – RCA Rector and former director of London’s Design Museum and the Smithsonian Institution’s Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, and David Godber of the Design Council joining to dig into the realm of Design Hacking. I will be chairing the evening.

The event is free, but booking is essential. For more details and to reserve a space, go here.

2 thoughts on “Design Hacking: Publication Launch

  1. Pingback: Research Group Meeting Notes: November 2, 2009

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