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The 29th Design Leadership Forum, tirelessly convened by Alan Topalian since 2002, listened attentively to my reflections on leadership in our times, and, while acknowledging the challenge we have set ourselves with the aforementioned Design & Rehabilitation project, wrestled valiantly with what it could possibly mean in practical terms and gave me some good ideas.

Seizing the opportunity to straw-poll, I asked the 30-or so assembled designers and design managers if they thought they, as designers, could be construed as resourceful. While all nodded vigorously, as I suppose they would, one offered a useful refinement of my conceit: "I think we're comfortable with uncertainty". Thank you, whoever you were.

I emerged less lucid, however, from the Central St Martins Textile Futures Research Group presentation on Metabolicity, a research project funded by Audi Design Foundation. To understand this sustainable-urban-food-growing-in-vertical-farms-of-high-tech-lace enterprise, it is first of all necessary to understand the concept of metadesign. First principle (of 10): "Metadesign can intervene creatively at the level of languaging". Languaging? We have someone called Giaccardi, 2005, to thank for metadesign, which "can be described as a shared design endeavour aimed at sustaining emergence, evolution and adaptation". Humph.

Metabolicity, may I suggest you try that with the Spinal Injuries Association online community? A propos, I'm very happy to report that as of Monday my most witheringly scornful online interlocutor, codename Raybonda, has written me a thoughtful and conciliatory message and wished me luck with the project.

I'm torn between excitement at design's newly palpable ability to mean more than cars and frocks and chairs, and the struggle to describe what, in its expanded state, it still is.  We are challenged to sustain definition for design today amidst the growing multidisciplinary compôte of service design, co-production, design-thinking and buzzing policy concepts like “nudge”. While the concept of design for industry would seem to limit the scope for designers to apply what they know to everything from synthetic biology to data processing and public services, to a de-materialised world with mysterious new terms and conditions, it is easy to lose a grip on what we mean by design.

I said last week that design as a verb was probably quite a challenging concept people who aren't designers. I think the verb "to language" is really pushing it.


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