The final Design & Ethics event for 2017 was hosted by Dr Ingo Karpen and involved a discussion around spirituality and its relationship to design. Stuart Walker’s Design and Spirituality: Material Culture for a Wisdom Economy provided a base from which we explored why design should be, or whether it could be, re-oriented to spiritualty.
Different experiences of spirituality were shared including moments in nature, energy from physical events and connections to music. With a renewed interest and desire to seek meaning and purpose in life, where could we find more of these experiences and why are they absent in academia and education? We explored ways to re-orient and mechanisms to ‘talk’ about spirituality. The benefits of a shared common language were raised, as well as the danger of bringing language to a topic and the categorisation that might occur as a result. Design and the overemphasis on the process, tools and templates is an example of this. Some suggested that this might already be occurring, where spirituality is being used by designers to manipulate customers into buying things (e.g. designing customer experiences with soul).
As we navigated the relationship between design and spirituality, many agreed that we should consider a holistic view of experience design including cognitive, practical, emotional and spiritual elements. However the extent to which we can ‘bring spirituality into design’ was discussed at length. Should designers ‘have it all’ and hold ‘spirituality’ as a capability in what is already becoming a diluted skillset? How do we manage the relationship between spirituality and power, so that these experiences do not act as another marketing tool? What is our ‘end goal’ in designing for greater purpose and meaning? Could we even maintain a different ‘culture’ or ‘way of being’?
The discussion came to a close as we revisited the term ‘human-centred design.’ Are we too focused on the human ego? Could HCD be a gateway to something else? We recognised the need to be responsive to conscious design, while also noting that HCD is a rallying point for individuals and organisations early on in their quest for a new level of meaning.