Life beyond Human Centered

Marcello Gortana
Mar 24 · 3 min read
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I have been contemplating the state of Human Centered Design and theories on the future of design methodology when I came across the concept of Xenodesign by Johanna Schmeer. Schmeer, a conceptual designer, artist, and researcher based out of London and Berlin recently wrote an article envisioning the future evolution of Human Centered Design for the Journal of Design & Science MIT (JoDS). She coined this methodology Xenodesign.

Xenodesign is a concept that — while still needs to be applied, and tested — has put forward a compelling framework to consider. It’s an approach that considers not only the human, but other-than-human aspects of an ecosystem. Design that incorporates the impact on climate, economy, culture, communities, and objects themselves.

I have summarized the most interesting points from the article and link back for anyone interested. I would love to hear your thoughts.

Schmeer starts to explore an interesting view on what’s next for Human Centered Design (HCD). Human Centered Design is a framework that considers human perspectives throughout the design process. Human perspective is the key consideration throughout HCD, but are all Human perspectives the same?

Johanna argues that HCD fails to look beyond immediate human users toward “the other”. Not only other humans but other non-humans. It’s in this gap, that a new design paradigm is needed; Xenodesign seems to be the beginning of that evolution.

Xenodesign, an approach guided by principles and theories from speculative design as well as from xeno discourses and speculative realism, which are characterized by an engagement with experiences and perspectives beyond the human and an understanding of all entities on an equal level — humans, ecologies, bacteria, air, soil, artificial intelligence. It explores what might constitute a xenodesignerly practice in three approaches, illustrated through examples from design.

Approaching and solving challenges from the perspective of non-human and human entities reveals opportunities to create interesting design outcomes. At the core, xenodesign invites audiences to take on the perspectives of the other, and use the concept as a tool for exploring a wide range of uses and affects.

Johana suggest three starting points:

Object Centered Design

Considers approaches related to concepts from Object-Oriented Ontology (OOO). The goal of these approaches helps users to engage with other-than-human perspectives (eg: climate change, capitalism, technological systems).

Approaching the design process and imagining interactions with these non-human perspectives can help situate outcomes and impacts at the scale of the things we design.

Examples: “Who wants to be a self driving car?” by Joey Lee and “Goat-man” Thomas Thwaites

Discursive Approximations

This design process aims to expand human audiences and perspectives in particular. Moving iteratively from abstract and highly fictional to concrete reality.

Examples: “bioplastic fantastic:between products and organisms” Johanna Schmeer and “autonomous agriculture” by Johanna Schmeer

Critical use

Describes design that bridges the gap between conceptual vs functional, enabling discourse to evolve at this intersection of reflection, present state, and future fictions.

Examples: “the inside is always a folding of the outside” by Johanna Schmeer and “kerzenhaltding” by Ding3000

Would love to start a discussion and hear more from others in the industry.

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Marcello Gortana

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Entrepreneur + Surfer + Executive Director of a small+mighty Innovation Lab named Tennis. Focused on Impact. www.designtennis.com

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