To approximate the whole thing in a vague way gives you a feeling that you’ve more or less touched the thing, but in this way you just lead yourself toward confusion and ultimately you’re going to get so confused that you’ll never find your way out.

-Bill Evans-

Design implies intent. However, when we are missing the holistic perspective, intentional solutions at a micro-level create unintentional consequences to the larger system. A shadow Design emerges, circumventing the Design process at the system-level and leaving us with a systemic solution that only vaguely touches on the fundamental problems that the system must solve.

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Issue 7. April 2017

design & community

Community. Building, retaining, and creating communities —both real and virtual— is one of the preoccupations of our modern age. But what do we mean when we talk of community? Who benefits from these groupings?

When community is invoked in terms of design, it shimmers of optimism and radiates nostalgia. People working together toward some common purpose; a place where one can belong, find identity, and feel safe and supported by others. A utopian ideal that collapses the complexities of human relationships into the flatness of an image.

As individuals, what value do we extract from the communities that we find ourselves a part of? For all the altruistic rhetoric around community, it is surprisingly difficult to find clear articulation of how our communities are supporting real human needs, much less paired with a thoughtful and honest exploration of the darker sides of community, the dangers of cultivating deep human desires to belong to a group of ‘us’ that is set apart from the eternal ‘them’.

The one place you do find deep thinking around this matter is perversely not focused on the benefits of community for it’s members, but on how the human desire for community can be exploited to create loyal customers.

Why is this? Is it that we are afraid to disturb our myth of community by probing too deeply? Might community be yet another place where, in our exuberance in designing for the virtual world, we forget that we never perfected our models in the physical one?

Brand Communities and the Cola War

Video: Brand Communities and the Cola War


That treasured feeling of community comes from shared experiences and a sense of—not necessarily the actual experience of—shared history. As a result, people know who is and isn’t part of their community. This feeling is fundamental to human existence.

What Is Community Anyway? by David Chavis & Kien Lee, 2015

  • “It is not community for its own sake that we seek. Rather, we should try to be a definite kind of community… Those who hunger for community should never forget Nuremberg.”

    Why Community is Dangerous, an interview with theologian Stanley Hauerwas, 2016

  • “A community that is safe, comfortable, and trusting can be so enticing that individuals can forget about the world outside of their community, or regard other communities with subtle prejudices.”

    What is a Community, and Why is it Important?, Sarah Michelson, 2005

system goals.

A common definition of community emerged as a group of people with diverse characteristics who are linked by social ties, share common perspectives, and engage in joint action in geographical locations or settings.

What Is Community? An Evidence-Based Definition for Participatory Public Health, 2001

  • “Human beings are programmed to want certain things. Chief among these are belonging and feeling understood. These needs are most often met through families, clubs and communities. When companies begin to focus on building communities–getting closer to an existing one or helping one to start–it makes a powerful impact that forges emotional bonds. When a new community is established, people who once felt left out now find kindred spirits. They begin to have a place to belong. When an existing community is strengthened, people who once felt marginalized now find validation. They discover that they have an important role to play.”

    The Power Of Community In Marketing, Lara Lee in Forbes, 2009

  • “To sum up briefly, from our findings it seems appropriate to... suggest that social media based brand communities offer brand owners the ability to enhance value, brand trust, brand loyalty and feelings of community among members. Marketers may do well to take advantage of the opportunities that such brand communities present.”

    The Effects of Social Media Based Brand Communities, 2012

systemic failure.

It is with increased preoccupation and sadness that we see how gated communities are proliferating everywhere. This is an expression of increased inequality, increased uneasiness in accepting diversity [...] This is contrary to the vision of a democratic and open city.

Joan Clos, executive director of UN-Habitat, Gated communities fuel Blade Runner dystopia and 'profound unhappiness', 2014

  • “One explanation for our debased civic discourse may be the decline of a sense of community that the old local columnists once helped provide. Isolation feeds resentment, which can be exploited by the President, talk-radio hosts, and other media provocateurs. But it can also be channelled into pressure for change by talented journalists working on behalf of the people.”

    Jimmy Breslin And The Lost Voice Of The People by Jonathan Alter, 2017

  • “America, says Mr Bishop, is splitting into ‘balkanised communities whose inhabitants find other Americans to be culturally incomprehensible.”

    The Big Sort, The Economist, 2008


Enter community architecture, a process designed to connect architecture students with the people and communities around them — and bring good design to problems, people, and places that wouldn’t be able to afford the high-priced field without it.

Architecture for the people, by the people by Isa Hopkins, 2014

  • “Public spaces create a different type of society. A society where people of all income levels meet in public spaces is a more integrated, socially healthier one.”

    Innovations in Public Space: Designing for Community, Shaina Kandel, 2013

  • “The way to start rebuilding community is to stop the practices that undermine it, such as treating human beings as human resources; firing them in great numbers when the company has not met performance targets; tolerating obscene compensation packages for CEOs; exhibiting a general disrespect for anything in the company’s past, including its culture; and in general overemphasizing leadership. In other words, the organization has to shed much of its individualist behavior and many of its short-term measures in favor of practices that promote trust, engagement, and spontaneous collaboration aimed at sustainability.”

    Rebuilding Companies as Communities by Henry Mintzberg, 2009

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Our world is designed through our actions and inactions, ignorance and enlightenment. With this newsletter, we strive to provide some of the context necessary to understand the largest problems facing the world today. We are all implicit in this mess.

There is absolutely no inevitability as long as there is a willingness to contemplate what is happening.

Marshall McLuhan, The Medium is the Massage


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