A manifesto for design for humanity

Internationally renowned,Hong Kong-based architect and pioneer of Cybertecture on the influence of design

Without doubt, design is one of the most powerful forces blessed to mankind.

By James Law

The ability to reconfigure the juxtaposition of molecules yielding forces, effects, spaces, structures and machines have shaped the fabric of mankind for eons. No other living creature on this planet has such high levels of influence on the configuring of molecules like homo sapiens.

The only entity greater in influence has been nature. Yet, it can be clearly seen that the influence of man through design is now comparative to nature. And perhaps in many instances, they clash with catastrophic effects that manifests in climate change, destablisation of land, flooding and tidal waves, famine and disease.

Design can therefore be seen as a double-edged sword. It has almost unknown potential to do good and yet also to do harm. Sometimes to have one, we must also have the other. Industrialisation may have given economic growth to the world for 100 years, yet we have paid the price with cyclical suffering through rapid degradation of our environment.

Design is often lauded for its positive stance on the present and future. We wield it like a device for change that we emphatically declare will bring better future for all. Yet, those intentions are not always wisely questioned, or seen with a deeper and broader consideration for the lasting effect for all. To create something good in the short term may not yield a long term effect. Doing good should never be for instant gratification of society, but for its long term well-being.

Design today is considerably centred on the notions of aesthetics and functionality. If we consider aesthetics, the pleasure derived from the artistic qualities of a design certainly has a value and appreciation of society. Cultural qualities and quality of culture promotes a sense of deeper well-being for everyone, and generates

a level of spiritual kinship that cannot be under estimated.

Functionality is a derivative coming from the rational mindedness of modern society to understand and organise its processes. Design showing functionality is about logic and efficiency. The ability to distill an issue through design to its essence, then actuate it through the most precise and to the point process is one that is at the heart of functionality. Functionality shows man the qualities of the modern design, his level of understanding and knowledge about materials and the world he lives in.

However, I would like to propose that the consciousness of design focused on aesthetics, functionality and many of the other fundamental facets including spirituality, culture and the spirit of making things, is all overrated if they are considered in isolation and put at the heart of all motivation for design.

I propose this because I believe that the ultimate and true potential of design is not in the creation of aesthetics, functionality, culture, art nor space of any product of design. I believe that the ultimate and true potential of design is in itself as the ultimate vehicle to explore the unknown future, to find the sources of meaning for our being, for lighting the path to what humanity will in time journey to, to invent those entities that will open our humanity, and ultimately bring balance to the forces that drives humanity that are both beautiful and ugly.

For many, this may mean different things. For some, it is about designing one’s soul. For some it is understanding the design of humanity. For me, it is my Cybertecture.