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Designing for the Commons demands a higher degree of responsibility and insight than is usual in the design profession. Design in our current culture, whether for spacecraft, rocket engines, weapon systems, medicines, computer games, or whatever else, usually has one major goal: To fulfill the perceived needs of an individual, special interest group, or even a broad segment of society. In our case the major goal is the needs of the Commons.
What is "the Commons"? For our purposes let us define this concept as the sum of the human endeavor--individual being and understanding within a context of nature; individual acting within a community and subjugating wants to the needs of that community; community existence within the confines of sustainable and equitable use of the natural resources needed for human and other life. The idea of the Commons is often opposed to the idea of the supremacy of individual rights. It has thus been a subject of argument and even disdain for some centuries.
In the 21st century the needs of the Commons, including the natural world within which humans exist, have become of overriding concern. In designing for the Commons, the designer, who conventionally is separate from the entity commissioning the work and from the work itself, now is part of the commissioning entity and also of the end result. This fact increases not just the complexity of the design project but also the importance of the result.
Those who accept the commission of designing for the Commons commit themselves first to strive for intuitive understanding of what "the Commons" means and then, for any project, to seek the best design to fulfill the needs of this amorphous entity. Such a design must be based on not just reason alone but on many other important human qualities, such as Common Experience (also called Common Sense), Imagination, Ethics, and Memory. The result will be a well-balanced “equilibrium” from all human capabilities (see On Equilibrium by John Ralston Saul).
Further, since circumstances are always changing, such balance or equilibrium is never achieved once and for all but has to be adjusted or changed totally through constant vigilance. The recognition of impermanence seems certain to impose a certain humility on the designer, a sense of not being able to provide a solution to any given problem but only a suitable and best effort response. And the knowledge that the chosen response is deeply anchored in and draws from the common Memory of humanity itself.
This project “Designing for the Commons” is intended to explore together and bring to our recognition the deep roots and rich potential of Humanity. It is hoped that this effort might lead us individually and corporately to become increasingly able to effectively "design for the Commons."