Biology is the new model for learning and design

Interaction designer Hugh Dubberly has some good observations on the shift from the mechanical object as a model for learning and design to one based on biology. The shift from a manufacturing to a service economy has given rise to the new disciplines of service design. But services, unlike products, are co-created with the user. They are about a series of experiences across a range of touch points. They are organic.

The shift from industrial age to information age mirrors, in part, a shift from manufacturing economy to service economy. In the new economy, as former WiReD editor Kevin Kelley put it, “commercial products are best treated as though they were services. It’s not what you sell a customer, it’s what you do for them. It’s not what something is, it’s what it is connected to, what it does. Flows become more important than resources. Behavior counts.”


The mechanical-object–organic-system dichotomy also appears vividly in discussions about ecology. Much of our economy still depends on “consumers” buying products, which we eventually throw “away.” William McDonough and Michael Braungart have pointed out that there is no “away,” that in nature, “waste is food.” They urged us to think in terms of “cradle-to-cradle” cycles of materials use, and they suggested manufacturers lease products and reclaim them for reuse. Theirs is another important perspective on the idea of product-as-service.”

The current shift from a mechanical-object ethos to an organic-systems ethos has been anticipated in earlier shifts. In the mid-1960s, architects and designers began to focus on “rational” design methods, borrowing from the successes of large military-engineering projects during the war and the years following it. While these methods were effective for military projects with clear objectives, they often proved unsuccessful in the face of social problems with complex and competing objectives. For example, methods suited to building missiles were applied to large-scale construction in urban redevelopment projects, but those methods proved unsuited to addressing the underlying social problems that redevelopment projects sought to cure.

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The illustration in the header is cropped from an original artwork by Dan Zeller commissioned by the NY Metropolitan Transit Authority to celebrate the rehabilitation of seven stations along the D Line in Brooklyn. From the MTA’s Flickr page:

The completion of the work to rehabilitate seven stations along the D Line in Brooklyn was marked on August 2, 2012, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by MTA leaders and local elected officials.

We installed great new artwork at each of the seven stations. Here are details for the artwork shown in this image and its location.

Bay 50th Street –
Artist: Dan Zeller
Title: Internal Connectivity
Date: 2012
Medium: Laminated glass
Location: Platform windscreens
Fabricator: Depp Glass, Inc.

This station is adjacent to John Dewey High School and is one station away from Coney Island, which provide a natural setting for Zeller’s abstract drawings to address the connectiveness of lives in an urban environment. Zeller studied satellite imagery and biological systems along the West End Line and interpreted them into abstract patterns. These colorful images provide an organic quality that is in concert with the green space next to the station and the nearby bay area. In the medium of glass, the work will be aided by the strong light available to this particular station, and since there is no specific imagery to interpret, it can be visible and enjoyed by those on the platform or two blocks away.

For more information about art throughout the New York transit system, download the Meridian app.

(Photo: MTA Arts for Transit and Urban Design)


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