2013 in review, yay! Nature, happiness, joy, triumph of the soul, financial and spiritual freedom, a life of blissful … Wait, never mind. Let’s cut the crap. Some of my decisions worked out in the end, some didn’t. All of my decisions were a result of naivety and experience, knowledge and ignorance, broad mind and dogmatic preconceptions. There may be stuff in here that’s useful in a wider sense, but these were the things that worked (and didn’t) for me. You may find that spending major holidays in the forest isn’t your thing – in which case, my advice below cannot be held responsible for your mosquito-induced misery to come.
So, here goes:
1. Spend All Major Holidays … And Any Other Days in Nature
Want to understand design from functional, aesthetic and experiential perspectives? Let’s start with the idea that we can experience all these phenomena, the objects and the events of the world, as they show up during your walk through a forest. The experience of the world ‘just as it is’ often requires significant attention, the quieting of the mind, the relaxation of the body, and the suspension of preconceptions. These are the skills you will learn not by studying ‘about’ nature, but learning ‘from’ nature during your walk in a forest. Once a designer can fully intake the unfiltered experience of sun and wind, light and shadow, damp and dry, fragrant and fetid, patterns of function, aesthetic, and experience begin to emerge. This is the beginning point for designing objects, spaces, systems, and experiences that engender and facilitate thoughtful solutions.
2. Become Part of a New Community
This past year I joined two exciting communities in Ottawa: UX Design and Maker Faire – wonderfully diverse and refreshingly similar worldviews that honour the culture of play. And, after all, isn’t play the greatest part of human culture? These events raised a lot of questions in my mind, some of which you might relate to:
- How can biologically informed design be ordered to fit the cultural context of various communities?
- How can biologically informed design convey symbolic meaning about what culture values?
- How shall we express through biologically informed design what is important to human culture?
- How can ecological relationships and cultures be translated into rich human-felt experiences?
Cultural significance and meaning arise from dialogue. To have mutual understanding, you have to talk about it! To have meaningful discussion about interdisciplinary relationships in designed and manufactured objects, systems, and experiences communities must be able to perceive and experience these relationships. So, go ahead, get out of your comfort zone, join a community, and get ready to have your mind blown. You’ll be surprised how enjoyable it is to have your dogmas questioned by your new-found friends.
3. Travel the World on as Many Scales as Possible
Nature is made up of systems that are nested within systems. Each individual system is an integrated whole and – at the same time – part of larger systems. Because living and nonliving systems are so complex, much scientific experimentation had to focus on individual or small numbers of components within a single organizational level (from atom to molecule, from tissue to organism, from population to ecosystem, from biosphere to universe).
But scientists are now gaining the capability to go beyond the interactions of components within a single level of biological, chemical, or physical organization and the study of one or a few components at a time. Biologists are increasingly able to integrate information across many organisms, from multiple levels of organization (such as cells, organisms, and ecosystems) and about entire systems (such as all the genes in a genome or all the cells in a body) to gain a new integrated understanding that incorporates more and more of the complexity that characterizes living and nonliving systems.
We often explore systems on just one scale, our scale. So, invest in a microscope and sign up for an astronomy night, and experience travel on a completely different scale!
4. Celebrate Achievements of Your Loved Ones
All living things in an ecosystem are interconnected through networks of relationship. They depend on this web of life to survive. We as humans have evolved beyond the point of survival and need to cultivate relationships on a different level, a level of love. I want to express gratitude and awe at the personal triumphs my family and friends have worked hard to reach.
… Which brings me to this.
5. Spend Time With Your Family and Friends More … A Lot More!
My great-grandmother Bulya, in my opinion, belonged to the category of distinguished women – highly intelligent, polymathic, sensible – but, unable to devote herself wholeheartedly to developing her vastly scientific mind, chose a different path and became a primary school teacher. She also cried, along with everyone else, at the announcement of Stalin’s death more than half a century ago. I always thought of her as Ursula Buendia from ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Now that I am older and have had enough time to investigate the basic mechanics of heredity, I can say with assurance that Bulya passed on a lot of her personal idiosyncrasies and several illnesses to me. Bulya died on Saturday early morning, July 13th, 2013 peacefully in her sleep. I still don’t know the precise cause of her death: I had been told rather vaguely that it was from old age, her body simply failed, yet her mind was still as sharp as ever, albeit some memory loss.
I called her very rarely in 2013. I was so preoccupied with comparatively superficial personal trauma that I managed to reduce a highly complex, deep, and wholesome relationship with my great-grandmother to just a few phone calls. And this inexplicable sorrow and feeling of bitterness produced by the life-long connection with her, which I had been carrying in my heart for so long, which up till that dreaded Saturday had seemed to me to be immortal, but all the time, was connected to my brain with millions of frail spider-silk threads that are now starting to dissolve one by one as my own memory begins to fail me with time.
“Good design is a sense of responsibility” reads my blog’s tagline. Perhaps, I need to take a bit of a different perspective on the term design.
“Good life is a sense of responsibility”.
So, Happy New Year, my friends! In 2014 let’s have a sense of responsibility and spend more time with the loved ones, be it family, friends, or nature.
P.S. Chances are, we didn’t hang out in 2013. Or if we did, it was ridiculously briefly, right? I am now publicly known as The Hobbit.
Let’s change that in 2014. Who wants to have tea with me?