Design within uncertainty: Gathering, generative process, and unexpected event

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School of Arts, Design and Architecture | Master's thesis
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Master's Programme in Collaborative and Industrial Design
This thesis aims to explore design within uncertainty. Our worlds are ongoingly formed within an interdependent web of relationships, and thus design cannot intentionally create better futures. Rather, the thesis argues that what is required in design is to engage with uncertainty and thus to foster unexpected events, exploring the way to do so. Reviewing the participatory design context, this thesis clarified two approaches to discussing uncertainty. The first generative approach has involved actors in specific uncertainty like darkness together and elicited unintentional emotions to depict the generative dimension of uncertainty. Second, The emergent approach focuses on everyday settings such as communities. In this approach, design means cultivating environments and relationships, and then, involved actors relate to each other and generate unexpected events. This thesis follows the emergent approach while adopting the methodological attitude of the generative approach. Also, to explore uncertainty, this thesis classified it into three aspects: a gathering, a relationship in which heterogeneous actors flow; generative processes, in which actors encounter and generate something; and unexpected events that emerge from them. Based on it, this thesis questions what a gathering is, how generative processes foster unexpected events, and how design can be involved with uncertainty. In the study, first, I compare ten gatherings to articulate the features of a gathering. Then, I examine one specific gathering, the Shared Houses, to explore generative processes by reconstructing four episodes that occurred, such as a radio and a crowdfunding project. The study revealed multiple aspects of uncertainty. First, in a gathering, heterogeneous actors intricately flow and blur definitions of a gathering. Then, generative processes are those collectively formed among human and non-human actors, and intentions and capabilities are shared in these processes. In addition, behind them, actors surrender their vulnerabilities to others and accept to be transformed, and I argued that this relationship of vulnerability elicits others’ interventions and contributes to the emanation of unexpected events. Finally, I argued design within uncertainty. It consists of four ways: 1) situating uncertainty by blurring a definition of a gathering, 2) inviting heterogeneous actors, 3) surrendering designers’ vulnerabilities and letting go of their intentions, and lastly, 4) ongoingly practicing in uncertainty and reacting to others to encourage generative processes. This design is a mundane, long-term engagement and also requires the ceaseless engagement of other actors. And this thesis claims that this constant engagement with uncertainty can cultivate possibilities of unexpected events.
Mattelmäki, Tuuli
Thesis advisor
Botero, Andrea
design within uncertainty, participatory design, gathering, generative process, unexpected events, surrender, vulnerability, assemblage
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