I had the honour of speaking about design for social justice at the opening ceremony of this year’s Allied Media Conference. My talk sums up conversations I’ve been having with awesome friend and design co-conspirator Nina Bianchi in which we set out to develop a wormhole theory of design. Here’s what I said, along with a few of my slides:
Design isn’t a product.
It’s not a website, an app, or a building. It’s not the latest NGO rebrand. It’s not a protest poster.
Design is a process of intentional dreaming — of imagining then making things that didn’t exist before. Things that get us closer to where we want to be.
But we know this already. We’re constantly flooded with messages and products that promise a particular kind of dream: “You will find happiness if only you buy this thing.” We will not survive if this is the only aspirational vision of our future
We’re living in urgent times, and these times call for urgent social dreaming.
It’s social not just because it concerns us as a society, but because in order to survive, we need to do it together. We need to create and share our visions of a more just world, then build it together using every tool we have, knowing that among us, we have every tool we need.
But wouldn’t it be great if there was a shortcut? What if we could fold space and time and instantly transport ourselves to the world we dream of?
What if we had a wormhole, a kind of rapid transit tunnel between two distinct points in space time?
We have something close, something we can all access. We have memory.
We each have recollections of incredible moments when we witnessed a glimpse of that other possible world. Maybe it was a moment when you were asked for consent in a way that wasn’t just loving, but exciting. Maybe it was the first time you shook your ass on a revolutionary dance floor to a rap song about decolonization.
These glimpses are alive within us, and when we recall them we open up an access route to an alternate reality — to that other world we’re already building.
We are quantum beings — we can exist simultaneously at both points in space time.
Our task is to merge that alternate reality with this one, to expand those glimpses to fill all of space and all of time.
So how can we use these glimpses to design the world we want to build?
We can draw inspiration from them.
Throughout this presentation I’ve been showing you icons that were designed collaboratively by pairs of artists and activists, drawn from their own wormhole glimpses. They give us
a visual and visionary vocabulary and communicate concepts we hold dear — community care, empathy, fierceness.
We need images like this because we can’t just keep depicting the forces we are resisting. We need to show the world we are building.
And we can plot these glimpses on a map that traces the contours of that other world.
This is an interactive visualization that maps the AMC ecosystem. It shows that yes, we do have critical mass — there are a lot of us building that other world. But more than that, it shows that we have critical connection — strong, interlinked, resilient relationships that form a mesh network of support and creativity.
And these glimpses give us concrete models to iterate on — to use them as prototypes, improve upon them and adapt them to suit new contexts.
These are some of the diagrams made by designers and non-designers today in the Future Design Lab. We peeked through the wormhole and used those moments as the basis for new ideas for media, technology and contexts. Over the weekend, I invite you all to join us in iterating upon these moments so they will come closer to filling our heres, our nows, and our futures.
Our task is enormous, but in this room, we hold countless access points, countless glimpses of that other world. The Allied Media Conference is one of those glimpses.
Welcome to the wormhole.