Since Designer & Client

Designer & Client was intended to focus the designer/client relationship, to help people develop a deeper engagement with their reality. My thoughts, only partially formulated at the time, were best expressed in the Introduction. I wished to connect a sailor’s passion for boats with a widening awareness of the choices that open-up when we recognize the freedoms available to us within the realm of play. In actively choosing our recreation, we exercise the “luxury” of going outside our accustomed constraints of practicality and necessity. The answers arrived at in play bring fresh insights into how we might answer the question, “When I’m doing exactly what I want to do, what will that be?”

This opportunity kept me interested in designing and building rather modest pleasure boats at a time and in a society that showed very little interest in deep commitment and focus. People were looking for serial short-term enthusiasms that could be met by the purchase of easily supplied, mass-produced, throw-away stuff. I wanted to help a few realize how they could take control of their own decisions – If not in our “toys” where we only need to please ourselves, then where? – Focusing on discovering and applying relevant First Principles we could enter into a practice we might be able to apply more broadly in our lives.

This effort was a resounding failure.  There are, as far as I know, three or four people who have any idea what I was attempting to do. Almost no-one showed any interest or awareness that this might have any bearing on their lives. My partial and confused efforts were mostly at fault. People assume they’re dealing “with a business” when they see a “shingle” advertising “goods.” I never found a way to get across that I wasn’t selling a commodity within a commercial milieu – nor running a charity for the remarkably well-off.

This was during the financial bubbles with their phony prosperity. Anyone with a credit card and a mortgage was impatiently sitting on liquid equity and eager to spend it to “improve their lifestyles.” Marketers lined up to lubricate their way and make sure nothing was too daunting. Easy decisions and one stop financing were key. Of the few who looked my way, the predominate reaction was “Huh?”

Today, I don’t see much chance designing pleasure boats will change perspectives in any meaningful way. The pool of still-affluent prospects is dwindling fast. This isn’t a time for quiet subtle prodding. The gathering crises are upon us. Their effects ever more dire. The need to change outlooks is more pressing than ever. Our methods need to be direct while tying up less material and money.

I’m not designing boats today. I’d dearly love to, but have neither the prospects nor the sense it would be a good use of my time and efforts. This is why I’m focusing on writing. I’m looking to hone my thinking and, at the same time, put my thoughts in front of at least a theoretical audience.

You may have found the results to date just as confusing as my earlier efforts; but writing has brought me focus. These blogs provide me with a short feedback loop and ample flexibility. I can try various avenues and approaches, delve into various styles, types and forms of address.

Fleshing out scenarios led me to design.  I am compelled, given a set of circumstances, real or hypothetical, to ask, “What If?” I like to unravel the strands, to see where their implications lead, to gather insights into their dynamics, to back my way up the causality-chain to a point where practical intervention might favorably modify an outcome. Failing that, I look for ways to adapt to inevitability.

The degree of difficulty continues to rise. We’ve deferred hard choices for so long, both individually and as a society. Consequences are more and more imminent and potentially severe. Our point of contact with effective change recedes dangerously “up-slope.” Our room to maneuver is backing into a coffin corner. In aviation this is when you are simultaneously too slow to maintain flight and too fast to stay in one piece. Tellingly this results from flying too high….

My problematic relationship with design; whether boats, avionics or any “practical” application; is reflected in the somewhat hesitant and confused state of this site. I see an enlightened form of design-thinking as a vital aspect of our way forward, but I find the path so strewn with dangling left-over assumptions. There’s an on-going confusion over where the best point of contact might be.

Greater clarity is beneficial, vital. Yet I cannot help but feel there is nothing to be gained by masking difficulties, whether in my straining for a means of expression, or with our looming consequences. We need to practice dealing with difficulty in real time. We need to capture the essence of what pragmatism should entail. The desire to formulate an easily digestible “position” and then “feed” it to a passive “audience” must be resisted.  Likewise waiting for someone else to establish an easy to follow “plan” before we take action won’t do. The path from where we are to where we need to be – wherever that might lead – is by its very nature confused. Following these paths will be difficult. We need to get on with it.

Boats, aspects of their design and construction, their historical uses, the tools, materials and their places in past societies are all vital aspects of a way forward.  I firmly believe that. Tying their examples and lessons to a wider attack within an enlightened design practice will take us in the right direction. Our efforts need to be as widespread as possible and as focused as we can manage them. As with all we do, the effort must go beyond any individual. This should rightly occupy a community, a network of communities. It can be a focus on which to establish and maintain those communities. This is not a call for utopianism or a retreat. I see this as one possible avenue towards a positive engagement with our conditions, one that takes us beyond escapism or outright paralysis through continued denial.

The time is past for creating toys for the rich. This is not a political posture just a statement of fact. Those who still have money are far from wealthy in the things that will matter as the decades wind on. The “surplus” out of which toys for adults can be made is rapidly dwindling as well. Our efforts need to be more direct and ultimately useful. Still, the memory of play, the tools, habits, practices it has helped preserve, are all there for us to pick up.


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