Designing Wisdom, How?
How can we design “wisdom” into our new world of tech, apps, virtual reality, architecture, public spaces and objects? One can see this recently in the shift in architecture from the grand aesthetic designs of large scale projects, to projects for the poor and third world taking the spot light, thus inspiring a level engagement for students, and architects who have not developed the big reputations, backing of major clients, while addressing a level of humanity forgotten in the gold rush of architectural projects.
Designing wisely is one objective in designing wisdom, but it can easily be utilized for just smarter design, but what of true wisdom. What defines this wisdom, is it an aspect of our lives that enhances our core humanity? Often designing involves fulfilling corporate needs and the marketing impact formed by our shared cultural lives. Me, me, me, immediate gratification, etc can define design when the stakes are selling a company’s new products.
Therefore what is designing wisdom into our world, s it a message, a way of looking at the world and objects in a way, is it a design goal, philosophy? I will ask you to bare with me, as I wish to keep this an open discussion and instead I will move to cases and projects I have developed in response to this.
One such project is my peace walkway project, and a response to a very common experience and exchange I have had over the years to the question of peace, and peace making. The fact is simply this, we know so little about the range of efforts, methods or even history of peace making. It is a topic we tend to see in political terms, and large groups asserting their rights and seeking resolution, we detach form peace, and peace making because we are consulate being forced to deal with it and see it i these overwhelming political group drives and needs. Peace making is not seen or tight as something we can play a major part in as individuals. We are not empowered individually, or inspired to see our own place in the building of a global awareness, or even our capacity to move mountains, which we all possess if we dedicate ourselves to that task. This is the central insight, the cultural split that defines our engagement in the most imprint and vital social necessity we will ever know and live.
It all began with looking at the relevance of the peace symbol and seeing it’s meaning kept alive and yet socially blurred in fashion and products now spanning the world. A symbol that is now the number one most popular symbol globally. Yet it was a 20th century symbol, what of a 21st century symbol that could revitalize it’s place or at lest provide new meaning and direction. Could these factors be wise elements and choices in the design process? Could social significance and relevancy to a major humanitarian need be factors, that could be the guides for design?
I decided to try out these design parameters, and over months worked on and played with ideas which would convey these central themes and express these in some visual symbol form. First off, I would like to dress the difference between a symbol and how it operates differently from a logo design which may operate temporarily in global culture. A Coca Cola logo is not a symbol, unless it becomes associated with a higher humanitarian cause, and even then if it is used it is only as a news item, a symbol of a larger social entity, such as corporations and what they do, and don’t do. A symbol on the hand embodies and embraces this higher, wiser, human ideal or set of ideals. A tall order human meaning and values and higher ideals.
I set about launching my new symbol on Facebook, and as a artist I had a following of fellow artists from all disciplines. It was those who created street art that embraced it immediately, as they seek new symbols to use it there public art works. It was an added statement of change, social direction and immediacy of visual message. Over 1500 street artists, creates, tattoo artists, knitters and DIY creatives embraced it and made all sort of visual expressions of it world wide. It became know as “the make peace symbol” a proactive peace symbol for the 21st century. Next I envisioned at proposed usages it could inspire, from sculptures, to city parks, and all sorts of placements in everyday life to inspire meaning, and meaningful peace exchanges. But it was not till I asked a simple question of a friend that I was struggling with did the idea and nature of designing for wisdom come completely into view. The question was this: “How did you learn about peace, a book, reading, did your parents teach you, school? He said: “reading about peace makers”, and I asked why. His response was the most vital clue in this process and ambition I had: “I’d read little of the book and then stop I guess, and think about what it was like for that person to do what they did”.
Reflection upon major issues, reflection, the power of reading about something, the Ah hah moments between engagement. The time to digest, personally explore ones own values, hopes, dreams , society and values. It was here that I also realized how powerful and cultural dangerous this process was. In a consumer society, all human process’ are directed not toward self exploration and evaluation but rather, the buy, or sale, the sense of immediate gratification. Wisdom overturns this, yet it, empowers to a degree that individual, thus over turning and over riding mass culture and it’’s directives, fear, self loathing, loss, anxiety all for the buy now, live later mentality drilled into us.
My mind reeled at this possible avenue of discovery, for it was clear this was not commercial design, or even grand client design, but something wholly in the spirt of a visionary stance. Things designed and engineering to a much more vast humanitarian purpose as exhibited in the work of Buckminster Fuller, the first designer to tackle design for the environmental impact we have and live on this planet. I thought about his work, the simplicity of it, the process of stripping away design elements and factors to convey in it’s simplest form all that could be communicated on such a vast topic such as “peace making, and it;s methods.”.
The start of this answer, began when looking at creating low cost, yet game changing “Make Peace parks”, that the symbol and renaming any empty space could just be all that is needed. No fancy public art, just and embedded symbol in concrete would do. Rocks, small stones in the symbol shape, embedded in concrete and the park renamed a “Make Peace park”. This would make the effort easy adaptable, low cost, sustainable anywhere in the world and all these parks would be united by a simple common symbol sharing and powerful message purpose.Rocks, stones and concrete embeds as a design feature, amazing.
Or so I thought about this simplicity of use and install, but a nagging question referring back to reflection upon what was done, reverberated in my head. Could there be more to teach, could more be offered to explore for individuals viewing a project. Could a greater sense of humanitarian purpose also be part of a public design project? Endless drawings, configurations, approaches, all failing to achieve what seemed to be of such vital importance, simplicity coupled with a vastness of human values.
As is part of such journey’s to create and design, ordinary life took me to a place where I found myself looking at a comparative place of some individual in bronze on a wall. For some reason I found myself starring at it, wondering how my symbol could be that form? It was finally some news article on some film star getting a Hollywood walk fame plaques that inspired what would become the peace walkway project. Could a walk of fame, bronze plaques of peacemakers, build “reflection” for the individual walking down it. Sheets of white paper, laid out in my driveway, clearly demonstrated t could. I saw the bronze plaques, each of a world famous peace maker, each with some small mention of their efforts, each to be discovered, each sharing through their actions some form of “wisdom”.
I was still haunted with how to deepen and broaden this simple, non design, design. Then it struck me how can I offer the history of each of these individual peace makers? Their biographical information? Smart phones, QR codes, and Apps, went into motion, and this walkway would have an app, that read the plaques and offered full biographical information on each peacemaker, and other features for peace making, building could also be added.
But to do this on a global level and in a easy to install and participate in effort at a local community level, that was the next set of design issues to face. Luckily these were inspired by concepts in global “branding” methods. 100 miles 4 peace, 100 kilometers would be the goal, with each installation being bronze plaques in all languages, an app that translated and connected all user and walkway installs and deepened individual and personal reflection and education. The World’s largest “smart tech” global peace monument project was born. One hundred different locations all interconnected with a smart phone app library of information, and in the simplicity and spirt of peace making itself, “a simple, humble walk in the park”.
Designing for wisdom seems more a vocation than a career path but it is vital that the objects we use and utilize do not just drive us to greater consumerism and purchases. Designing for wisdom, must offer us, clear information of how we are to live with and for each other and why? To save our planet, stop poverty and vast starvation end human exploitation and cruelty in the guise of have and have nots. It is dangerous territory to design for wisdom, no instant gratification, but rather offering a lifetime of inspiration. It is counter our design culture of grand ego statements, and demonstrations of power or vanity. My only answer to all of these is designing for wisdom, is what you will and do live every day of your life, whether you focus on it or not, it is what you give and teach your children, it is what will determine the future of our planet, it is what will spare billions of lives the painful misery and despair of a savagely brutal, discarded existence. It is what has become one of the many stories we will tell in our new Virtual reality peace walkway app. Yes, the project has attracted the story tellers and Virtual reality creatures of the future to expand our app, into much greater peace maker events and impact. Think of Mother Theresa, in a leper colony day after day, year after year and attempt to comfort a suffering individual who asks: “Will I die and why has God done tis to me?”.
How would you answer? What in you , would you offer in that moment and how would you find the courage to even be there? Design for wisdom, may prepare us to take on this most simple of human acts as something within each and every one of our true human and yet personal destinies.
If you wish you can see my peace wisdom sharing project at: http://peacewalkway.org