Transition and Agency (Design for what, for whom, and when?)

  • Words

    Virginia Tassinari

  • Images

    Wout Trippas

Eduardo Staszowski, Lara Penin, Andrew Moon – Parsons DESIS Lab New York City, VS

Transition is “the process of changing from one state or condition to another”. For designers, this concept affords a vision and theory of temporality, but is the kind of “future” vested in this vision adequate for present concerns?

What entangled transitions need to take place now to have any chance of capturing the speculative futures that are often invoked by design theory and research? Are they temporal transitions or something else? What conceptual work might augment “transition” in generative ways today? Agency is “action, especially such as to produce a particular effect”. Agency is what empowers the present to transition.

But two things need to change: first, designers need to acknowledge that they have very limited agency to change the course of major decision making processes on their own – their access, rights, resources, legitimacy and authority preclude it. And second, it follows that designers need to ensure their agency by way of re-orienting their attention to agencies elsewhere.

How can designers distribute agency within the communities, organizations, and infrastructures in which they work so that these actors can adapt to contingencies and uncertain effects in ecological, social, and urban environments as they emerge? We are proposing a transition, not to a speculative future yet, but to a distributed practice of embedding and cultivating agency now.