The Evolution of Design

From the physical artifact to living systems

A Shift

It appears that the current focus of organizations on user experience design, design thinking, product design and service design signals a major shift that has happened over the past five years to recognize design as the primary engine for delivering value to the customer. I regret that I was not able to witness that change from the inside of an organization and to be a part of that cultural evolution.

A Vision

I started something that I am calling a builders collective. The vision is to build leaders to design a resilient society (BLDRS). We are human beings who are working on the design challenge of our times: the human experience.


Design is about developing self-awareness and empathy to understand what we need. The design process may require that we take things apart to understand how they work. Then again, this may be the wrong way to think about each part of a system. With living systems, if you take them apart, the organism dies. Each part is integral to the function of the whole.


The deconstruction process can be painful, as we examine the assumptions and values that form the foundation of a living system. This is what we are observing. Humanity is waking up from a long slumber, from an unconsciousness that prevented us from being aware of the technologies and systems that we have built.

  • political systems
  • economic systems
  • industrial systems
  • religious systems


If we observe what humanity is experiencing at this moment, we can better understand how people are reacting to the way technology is changing us, for better or for worse. Some react in fear. Others are tentative. Others are excited. Still others have been the early adopters who have jumped into the deep end of the pool and are at the frontiers of exploration in this new world of human experience.


This is the experience of being human. We grow up in stages as we mature from infancy to childhood to adulthood:

  • Self-consciousness
  • Language
  • Exploration
  • Experimentation
  • Questioning

Stimulus and Response

We are at the stage in our development as a species that is surfacing questions about our assumptions about old ways of doing things. Our survival as a species depends on these questions. What is different about humans is that this has become a conscious process, whereas this has been an unconscious evolutionary process up until this point. Previously, there was stimulus and response. Now there is stimulus, interpretation, and response.


We have the cognitive ability to interpret stimuli and situations, arriving at conclusions based on our ability to build a mental model of our present reality based on past experience, in order to respond appropriately, given the goals that we have for a particular vision of the future.


Our growing self-awareness includes the notion of responsibility. With great power comes great responsibility. We are responsible for our actions. Awareness is only the beginning. To make changes, we need to plan. We need an alternative vision to our current reality. Then we need to put into action a different set of habits and behaviours that can significantly alter the situation in which we find ourselves.


We have moved beyond the age of tolerance to an age of understanding. It is not enough to peacefully coexist. Our lives are interconnected to such a degree that the actions of each individual affect the whole. Such interdependence demands that we learn to embrace each other.


Culture is not static. Culture is what happens when humans interact. Culture is the activity that occurs at the intersection of young and old, of exploration and habit, of innovation and tradition, of networks and hierarchies.

Social Architecture

The new role of the designer is that of the social architect, a person who understands living systems and processes and seeks to facilitate and guide the activity of individuals and groups to better align with the health and function of the entire ecosystem.

Social architecture is the art and science of living systems.

Design Education

To understand our new role as designers will require new ways of thinking about design education. This is what I believe will define this moment in history.

Written by

Designer, writer, educator, social architect, founder, Builders Collective, Leading with Design.

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