Post-Industrial Design Reader

About: Designer / maker

A Reading List About Industrial Production, Globalization, Capitalism, and Sometimes People

The interplay between the built world, ecosystems, and humanity affects all matter here on the pale blue dot. We build, we buy, and we scatter what's left through out the water and soil of our planet. As a designer of physical things, I am particularly tuned into the fine line I walk in this system; both creator and destroyer. I feel it is my responsibility to design things ethically, but it turns out what that looks like is hard to navigate.

I've grouped together some things to read or listen to that have helped me try to understand the complex industrial landscape of late capitalism. Complexity reins supreme in our globalized, fractured world. By no means is this definitive, but if nothing else this will serve to capture my thinking in a moment in time, and possibly inspire some thoughts in others.

Many of the works I reference here were key touch points for my essay series, Kipple Field Notes. This work is a self directed exploration of the question: "How might we use design to reframe systems of production, products, and methods of consumption to create a paradigm of resource stewardship which could protect the biosphere and build more resilient human communities?" Spoiler alert: I have more questions than answers.

The term "post-industrial design" started as a joke between my partner and I, as we talk through these issues frequently. Industrial Design doesn't capture the messy pieces of life and culture and capitalism that shape the current paradigm of stuff being made on Earth but industrial production is definitely a key factor. So, forgive me the pretentious name, but let's explore some complexity.

I've largely been inspired by the much more nuanced, intersectional reading list from The New Inquiry, Speculating Futures. Read that!

I will be adding annotations on an ongoing basis.

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Step 1: On Making

From a North American perspective, Maker Culture is often the interface we have with the production of objects. While Maker Culture has been applauded as the beginning of a New Industrial Revolution in some circles, there are structural problems to that mindset that are worth interrogating. These writers provide a variety of interesting critiques.

Exploring the historic precedent set by the Arts and Crafts movement, this article questions the efficacy of building objects to create revolutionary societal change. This is a well researched look into the context around the subculture that I have referred back to for years.

Acknowledging the legacy of cultural practices in Brazil where making do, inventing and innovating are necessities of life, Fonseca explores the promise and pitfalls of Maker Culture from the perspective of a DIY hacker in Brazil. If you like his article, he's written a book on the topic that is free to download.

Leah Buechley, inventor of the Lilypad Arduino, takes on the MAKE brand, questioning how their visual media values what is made and who makes it.

Step 2: On Design

This list is largely design theory with a bent away from the ultra utopian. I am frustrated with the narratives that paint design as an inherently positive practice, and the outcomes from design research as the best outcomes. Like technologies, politics, books, or any other human cultural constructs, design is not a constant force, outside of influences that can be construed as positive or negative. I haven't included any human centered design toolkits, but I also haven't included an critiques of human centered design practice. Instead, I've focused on strategies, conversations about industrial design, and the politics of values in design.

Step 3: On Supply Chain

Once you try to make something in the physical world, you learn about a lot of challenges and new processes. Once you try to make ten or a hundred of something, you are forced to learn about supply chains. Shipping, product lifecycles, extraction, globalization, and cultural influences converge as humans try to organize bits of matter into long complex systems of organization that bring packages to your door.

Step 4: On Garbage

We are in a strange moment as 2018 dawns. In Junkyard Planet, Adam Minter writes extensively on the secondary market for recyclables in China - material bought from affluent Western nations that has literally built the infrastructure of a booming Chinese economy. But as of January 2018, many kinds of waste are no longer allowed to be imported to China. Western cities are going to need to reimagine how we deal with our unwanted packaging and scrap steel, or if we don't our lives may be left strewn across beaches, waiting for future generations to uncover our trash like the burst 1950's landfill at Dead Horse Bay.

Step 5: On Humans

We've created a system that we are being designed out of. How do our choices in media, work, or consumption habits affect the world at large? Do they? With an age on oncoming automation, I wonder how we will manage to take care of all the people we don't seem capable of taking care of now.

Step 6: On Infrastructure

How do we inhabit that which is invisible to us? So much of our world is built anonymously, and goes unseen. By understanding the forces that create the built world and our lived experience, we might be able to change and influences those forces.

Step 7: On Futures

Science fiction is to futurism what social theory is to conspiracy theory: an altogether richer, more honest, and more humble enterprise. - Social Science Fiction

The drive to create a better world is best tested and created in increments. Speculative design and design fiction allows for spaces to be opened up where these ideas can play in sandboxes. Here are some things I like.

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