Polycentric design praxis

Here is where I am right now: I want to integrate polycentric design practice (design for multiple interacting participants in a defined social system) with my philosophical project, which reconceives philosophy as a genre of design — a genre of polycentric design. This integration of practice and theory yields a polycentric design praxis.

This polycentric design praxis is, itself, a polycentric design “artifact”, a way of being-in-the-world: an enworldment.


These two projects are already joined at the root.

A radical design solution, to the degree it is radical entails philosophical work. Such solutions reach beyond mere ingenuity, by reframing the problem it is meant to solve.

Moderately radical solutions may use metaphor to semantically remap the problem landscape and to find a new standpoint from which one can view the problem in a new perspective, and approach it from new angles. Essentially, metaphor puts existing conceptions to work in new contexts, not only for the designer, but also for the participant in the design. But repurposing of conceptions through metaphor is only one move available to designers and thinkers. Some claim it is the only one, but this claim says more about the limits of the claimant than the limits of possibility. Truly radical thinking involves finding new conceptive movements through direct and tacit interactions with reality — nonverbal intuitions. The wordbound are stopped short where language ends, equally unable to originate or understand what cannot be assembled from dictionary definitions. Much of value can be made inside these limits, but the most important advances in human being happen when linguistic limits are transcended, through religious or artistic activity. The words come later, and new metaphoric material for word-tinkerers. All that being said, though — metaphor does make a design more usable, and the most successful radical designs use metaphor or simple conceptual models to do the reconceptive work of innovation.

Any innovation rooted in reconceptions beyond the verbal will be perceived, not as design, but as art. Likewise, any intellectual innovation rooted in reconceptions beyond the verbal will be perceived, not as philosophy, but as religion. Untamed art (that is, art that cannot be explained) and genuine religion (that is, religion that does not explain) inflicts perplexity on wordworlders.

My philosophical faith was forged in design practice. My worst perplexities come from my worklife. I see them arising from the unique requirements to conceptually align with diverse people. I’ve come to understand (that is, to reconceive) the strange kinds of pain human-centered designers suffer as collective perplexities, very similar to those felt by scientists during scientific crises and to those experienced by philosophers who discover their radical differences. And, I should add, to a culture who has fractured and factionalized and cannot reconcile its difference, because both sides are indubitably right, morally and epistemically) and face existential threats from the other.

Cultivating a practice of moral-epistemic irony toward myself either gives me a uniquely helpful approach to diagnosing and treating such group perplexities, or it gives me a smug and alienated claim to superiority.

What a mess of a post. I’ll stop now.

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