Tuesday 19.12.17 Accessibility, Scale and Perspective
Charles and Ray Eames are famous for their moulded plywood furniture and plastic chairs, furthermore they shaped the way people perceive the us surrounding world. The experimental film “Powers of Ten” showed scales, zooming in and out—scalar thinking—as never before. “The simple idea executed in the film has become a powerful construct for thinking through design problems today.” “In it, Charles and Ray Eames guide us through a deceptively straightforward exercise — zooming out to 1024 and then back in to 10-16 — re-framing a simple scene by showing it within ever-larger and then smaller contexts.” [1] The first draft of the clip “Powers of Ten” was published in 1968. It got released in 1977. [2] It still helps todays designers to think of different scales. Personally, it was my access to systems thinking and the theory behind it. It also speaks to the responsibility of our actions, which are having impact on different scales—each time. Imagine your consumption of goods. Are you aware of the influence, on different global and hyperlocal scales, of buying a t-shirt? Probably not, I’m lacking of that knowledge, too. But everything we do everyday has impact, if we ignore it, or even aren’t aware of it. We have to take responsibility more often.

︎ Martin Reisch, UNDER 30. Unsplash, 2017.

In Wigley’s “Network Fever”, Doxiadis describes, that the “internal life of each building is extended by ever-larger-scaled networks, from the pedestrian journey to a neighbour’s house to an airline flight to the opposite side of the planet.” [3] Hunt continues “In order to design within these confounding contexts, we need to be able to scale up and scale down as we design: to consider both the granularity of the things we are designing as well as the much larger contexts within which they exist.” [1] I absolutely agree, but I also want to make the point (see ‘Perspectives’), that we have to think of horizontal, not just vertical scales. “The Anthropocene names some very big problems—of planetary and epochal scale. The problems arise from the sheer volume of diverse design actions currently taking place […].” [4]

The idea of open source, i.e. freely accessible software that is shared with the world, is not new. Back in 1991, Linus Torvalds began working on the Linux system. To this day it is an integral part of our everyday life. The Android operating system that runs on most Google smartphones is based on Linux. Big data and data centres of Twitter or Facebook are filled with hundreds of Linux computers. Linux is today the foundation of the Internet. A decentralization of knowledge. [5] Another example of mass knowledge is Wikipedia. The great publishers of encyclopaedias, such as the Britannica and the Brockhaus, who have traditionally paid academics to write scientific articles for their many-volume lexicons, were not prepared for such a thing. Just a few years ago, it would have been unthinkable for hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world to contribute free-of-charge and jointly. No-one thought of a popular academic lexicon with contributions on virtually every conceivable topic, and making it available to the rest of the world free of charge and checkable for errors. The fact that Wikipedia, with more than 3.5 million articles is now thirty times as extensive as the Encyclopedia Britannica, and 13% of all daily Internet visitors look information up there, puts the name decentralized system quantitatively and qualitatively right. What began in the software sector around the turn of the millennium, developed for some hardware companies to the recipe for capitalist success.

The American 3D printer producer Makerbot developed his first devices completely open source. Thus, a loyal and family-based community of hundreds of developers, engineers and hobbyists has been generated, which then have optimized the printer constantly. Creativity and ingenuity have always convinced new investors. Meanwhile, the company, founded in 2009 in New York, was bought by world market leader Stratasys in 2012 – and since then has kept its sources closed, to the displeasure of the developer community. [6] Unlike the electric car developer Tesla, which subsequently made their proprietary technologies freely accessible. The overarching goal is to drive the entire development of sustainable transport in the market. Founder and CEO Elon Musk stated in the official press release: “Technology leadership is not defined by patents, which has been harshly criticized, but rather by the ability to attract and motivate the world’s most talented engineers. Tesla’s position in this regard is diminish.” [7]

Unlimited growth is ecologically not possible and who acts too big and too closed, risks an area of mistrust, to move. [8] Historically, these boundaries are as clear and dangerous as never before. Refugee movements, squashed seas, global warming are forcing us to rethink and deflect. With disruptive technologies in crucial sectors, a concentration of housing, a generation shift to more environmental responsibility and self-determination, and an unprecedented level of connectivity. Everyone can communicate with any and every million devices, we are living in a time of rapid change. This upheaval has produced some mega-trends such as the Shared Economy in recent years. AirBnb and Uber are among the most successful startups in recent years. Property becomes more and more a burden. People want to share instead of buying and are longing for simple and authentic solutions. The hierarchical top-dow-consumption model of the 20th century begins to give way to a collaborative and decentralized form.

“RescEU” is a project of two German design students Johannes Kuhn and Lukas Jakels. They re-think the European Refugee Crisis by motivating foreign people to “Go to Europe! Save the People”. [9] If African people come together and go to Europe, they can help to end a growing humanitarian crisis. Kuhn and Jakel use the method of insecurity to rethink the world view of western people. Humans are trapped in habits of doing something. It is formed by cultural and personal environments. Through subversion by design they are able to show the serious social shortcomings. What if the European government would use the Refugee Crisis as a chance. The designers are trying give answers by imagining the humanitarian aid organisation “RescEU”. The concept of welcoming culture (“Willkommenskultur”) firstly designates a positive attitude of politicians, businesses, educational institutions and other institutions towards foreigners, especially towards migrants. Second, the term expresses the wish that all migrant people encountered by these institutions may be accepted and particularly not be exposed to discrimination. The students take advantage of these political terms and designed t-shirts and posters with provocative quotes. By visiting a group in Africa and shooting an image video, their campaign won of credibility. African people are pretending to improve European terrible living conditions. White people have forgotten how to relate to each other, how to share and how to foster a sense of community. If we think this way, the stereotype of aid workers changes. We have to forget the idea of Europeans helping the needy in Africa.


I found this project very inspiring. Using critical design to foster a societal conversation about refugees coming to Europe, works very well. The project got featured in national press, radio and television. It’s turning around the daily asked questions of mass media and criticising everybody’s ethics. It engages and reaches a lot of people, because of its clear message. The professional presentation stands for a working scalability. It speaks perfectly to my previous point of changing perspective within one particular level of scale, by changing the point of view—not vertical, but horizontal.

“The inability to imagine a different life is capital’s ultimate triumph.” [10] Is societal transformation only thinkable, if we have financial capital [11] on our side? No—I disagree. It does not really matter if we design products, apps, posters, services, speculative scenarios, or something else. Designing projects with intent to focus on social or ecological issues will be a small but meaningful contribution to the transformation of our society. By changing perspective, thinking scalar and in systems, and trusting in the power of people, we can make a difference. The best thing: we already succeeded.

(Firstly published on the Transdisciplinary Design Blog as part of “Transdisciplinary Seminar 1“, durring my MFA at The New School)

Works Cited:
  1. Hunt, Jamer. "How to Apply Eames’s Legendary "Powers of 10" to Real-life Problems." Co.Design, 8 Oct. 2010, www.fastcodesign.com/1662461/how-to-apply-eamess-legendary-powers-of-10-to-real-life-problems. Accessed 18 Dec. 2017.

  2. Office, Eames. "Powers of Ten. Based on the Film by Charles and Ray Eames. An Eames Office Website." Wayback Machine, web.archive.org/web/20140618123647/www.powersof10.com/. Accessed 12 Dec. 2017.

  3. Wigley, Mark. "Network fever." Grey Room 04 (2001): 82-122.

  4. Tonkinwise, C. "Designing in an Era of Xenophobia" The Radical Designist, Issue 4 | June 2016 Edition (2016): 1-19.

  5. Moody, Glyn. “How Linux Was Born, as Told by Linus Torvalds Himself.” Ars Technica, 25 Aug. 2015, www.arstechnica.com/information-technology/2015/08/how-linux-was-born-as-told-by-linus-torvalds-himself/. Accessed 14 Dec. 2017.

  6. Lopez, Luis, J C. Tweel, Chad Troutwine, Steven Klein, Seth Gordon, Dan O'Meara, Bre Pettis, Kyle Johnston, and Matthew McGaughey. Print the Legend., 2014. Accessed 12 Dec. 2017.

  7. Musk, Elon. “All Our Patent Are Belong To You.” Tesla Inc, 19 Aug. 2014, www.tesla.com/blog/all-our-patent-are-belong-you. Accessed 12 Dec. 2017.

  8. Meadows, Dennis L., Edward I. Goldsmith, and Paul Meadow. Limits to growth. Vol. 381. CBC, 1972.

  9. Kuhn, Johannes, and Lukas Jakels. “What We Do.” RescEU, 9 June 2015, www.resceu.org/inform/. LAccessed 14 Dec. 2017.

  10. Scholz, Trebor. "Platform Cooperativism Vs. the Sharing Economy.” Medium, 5 Dec. 2014, medium.com/@trebors/platform-cooperativism-vs-the-sharing-economy-2ea737f1b5ad. Accessed 18 Dec. 2017.

  11. Bourdieu, Pierre. "The forms of capital.(1986)." Cultural theory: An anthology 1 (2011): 81-93.