Design against Reverse Salients - Strategic design for the short-term future for sustainability transitions

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School of Arts, Design and Architecture | Doctoral thesis (monograph) | Defence date: 2019-10-30
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Aalto University publication series DOCTORAL DISSERTATIONS, 166/2019
Design solutions for sustainability are easily restrained from producing their intended outcomes. One key reason given to explain design shortfalls is that designers do not recognise the critical phenomena of systems transitions emerging in the near future. In view of the difficulty of achieving sustainability transitions, I am compelled to think about what design can do to realise sustainability futures. Reverse salients, the term conceptualises problems inherent in the near future, which may lead to disastrous consequences that eventually impede overall systems transitions. They are problems that are not seen at the present; even if they are projected, they are not easy to solve. These obstacles to sustainability transitions in the near future have to be anticipated and progressively overcome in order to further the transitions process before they lead to future critical adverse situations that hamper overall systems transitions. This implies design for sustainability cannot be limited to merely generating long-term visions that may lack operational effectiveness in the short-term or to only solving present problems without strategic importance. Focusing on the midway posits an alternative design approach for the short-term future. Through integrating transitions theories and strategic design studies, this dissertation develops a new design approach, named the Strategic Design for the Short-term Future, which has the present-day importance of the short-term issues to solve problems developing in the near future in transitions. The research contributes to a new research area of exploring an alternative strategic design with anticipatory strength as well as operational effectiveness in order to pre-empt future adverse results. To build theory for guiding design practice, two case studies are conducted in this dissertation. The two transitions cases concern renewable energy transitions applied to advancing the use of solar photovoltaic panels on a heritage building called Dipoli in Finland and sustainable aquaculture transitions applied to Finnish sustainable salmon trout aquaculture in the Baltic Sea. The research results demonstrate two short-term future visions that connect longer-term goals and the present-day actions to solve problems arising in future situations. This research has suggested an alternative design approach to a different transitions challenge – that is, design against reverse salients. I hope this research work would make a modest but important contribution to advancing design towards realising sustainability futures.
Supervising professor
Keinonen, Turkka, Prof., Aalto University, Department of Design, Finland
Thesis advisor
Gaziulusoy, Idil, Prof., Aalto University, Department of Design, Finland
Whalen, Jack, Prof., Aalto University, Department of Design, Finland
Design for sustainability, Reverse salients, Short-term future, Transition(s) design, Sustainability transitions, Strategic design
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