Today’s complex post-industrial problems cannot be addressed internally by single companies and communities alone but requires systemic transformations. Achieving this purpose requires designers to shift from accustomed to means and modes of ‘industrial’ design to the exploration of ‘how to’ configure qualitatively different value systems, learning how to work across locations, scales, networks and communities of practice.
In this PhD dissertation I began to explore the character and possibilities of a design practice to guide the transition of existing industrial infrastructures towards configurations more attentive and responsive to the needs of contemporary society and its service and information economies —what I call Transtructures.
The basic premise of this work is the following: If we want to provide answers to emerging socio-technical demands —providing new organizational models for production and collaboration with the proper foundation to prosper— we must first explore what changes are possible, and even required, within the industrial systems and protocols that currently frame our possibilities for implementing such innovations.
Inspiration and Method
Through a series of design experiments in the areas of logistics and telecommunications, I started to prototype and develop a programmatic framework for a transitional design practice, which is aimed at engaging publics with infrastructural issues. Participatory hacking approaches and speculative mockups have been employed to express and materialize present and future infrastructural configurations, making them present and available for experience and design.
This experimental program is constituted of two main parts. Since the primary obstacles to initiate the transformation of industrial infrastructures are the inaccessibility and invisibility of their dispositions and back-end operations, this is where we need to start – to materialize and make visible agencies and relations that are otherwise hidden. Then, after materialization, new configurations can be prototyped out of this material and collaboratively investigated through performances, concept rehearsals and prototyping sessions in the field —bringing the ‘experience of the future infrastructure’ and its interfaces as close as possible to the everyday lived experience.
The result of this research is the early ‘prototype’ of what a practice for redirecting and transitioning towards configuration that locally flexible and citizen-centered postindustrial configurations could be like: the processes it could follow, and what materials it could include. In particular, it exemplifies how design may inquire into the artificial space of industrial infrastructures and explore opportunities for their transformation.
Finally, it provides a possible approach to the modeling of interactive and automated systems. Through design qualitatively different market configuration and product-service systems can be conceived, experienced and prototyped ‘in situ’, providing the means to learn how to implement and attune these visions into their context of use. Through an iterative process, future uses and systemic interactions of different actors and networks become relatable, providing designers a tool to investigate and anticipate consequences and mediations of future socio-technical arrangements.