Finding the Truth in Systems: In Praise of Design Hacking

Design Hacking: Folly, Theft or a New Democratic Dawn

The R S A Design & Society recently commissioned Scott Burnham to write an article on design hacks in both the developed and the developing world. Finding the Truth in Systems: In Praise of Design Hacking is an overview and exploration of ways in which individuals are taking design decisions into their own hands by hacking, reconfiguring and reworking the products, systems and spaces that make up our lives.

Some topics that are explored include:
Hacking creates new engagements between the product and the consumer
Hacking mandates relevance and necessity in design
Hacking is resourceful
Hacking creates abundance from limited resources
Hacking finds the truth in systems

Hacking gives people a voice. Hacking creates new realities, options and possibilities from those we are given, whether commercial, social or civic. It offers forth the notion of a democratisation of design, by enabling the end user to be part of the process and not only on the receiving end of it. There is a triumphant message of individual resourcefulness and direct engagement when a hacker sensibility is applied.

Most of all, hacking is evidence of our fundamental self-reliance in spite of professionalism, bureaucracy and industrial supply. In many ways, it is a return to, or a rediscovery of, the skills which saw us through our pre-consumerist times, when “making do” with what you had to hand required inventiveness. To relegate such activity to the realms of â”amateurism” is a dangerous dismissal, for it not only further deepens the “us and them” disconnect between design and society, but ignores the vast potential of the creative energies at work outside established channels.

The full publication can be downloaded from Scott Burnham’s site or from the RSA.

The RSA’s central mission is to foster good citizenship by closing the gap between our everyday behaviour and the future to which we aspire.
To close this gap, contemporary society needs to be more resourceful: its citizens more engaged, self-reliant and collective in their striving. A combination of professionalisation, bureaucracy and consumerism has reduced our resources of common competence and as citizens we often appear to be less resourceful than ever. At the same time our consumption has diminished the earth’s resources and we now have fewer resources of energy and natural material at our disposal.
Design & Society argues that design will be fundamental to closing the gap between behaviour and aspiration because of the particular resourcefulness that designers represent. Ready to improvise and prototype, brave in the face of disorder and complexity, holistic and people-centred in their approach to defining problems, designers have a vital role to play today in making society itself more resourceful.

Street Market Hacking Stall, Hong Kong. Photo: Scott Burnham

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