Transition Design: Re-conceptualizing Whole Lifestyles

Terry Irwin, Gideon Kossoff & Cameron Tonkinwise

Transition Design: Re-conceptualizing Whole Lifestyles

Filmed on October 12, 2013, at “Head Heart Hand: AIGA Design Conference”

The transition to a sustainable society is one of the most important and exciting design challenges of our era. Today designers in both professional practice and education are undertaking projects in sustainable design and social innovation. However these efforts lack a unifying framework. In the face of social and environmental challenges a vibrant international grassroots “transition movement” is working to build local community resilience. How do designers identify their role and become a voice in this movement?

This presentation proposes “transition design” as a new field that uses the tools processes and studio culture of design to facilitate this. Transition design focuses on reconceiving everyday life and societal systems around food health transportation policy and energy resources to be more sustainable. Transition designers understand the interconnectedness of social and natural systems and conceive solutions that leverage the power of symbiosis. Viewers are introduced to the four aspects of transition design and presented with examples of transition initiatives.

Terry Irwin is the head of the School of Design at Carnegie Mellon University and has been teaching at the university level since 1986. She has been an adjunct professor at Otis/Parsons in Los Angeles California College of the Arts and the University of Dundee in Scotland. She has also guest taught and lectured widely in North America and Europe. Irwin was a founding partner of the San Francisco office of the international design firm MetaDesign where she served as creative director for nearly 10 years. In 2003 she moved to Devon England to pursue a master’s degree in holistic science at Schumacher College an international center for ecological studies. Irwin subsequently joined the faculty there in 2004. In 2007 she moved to Scotland to undertake Ph.D. studies at the Centre for the Study of Natural Design at the University of Dundee. Irwin’s research explores how living systems principles can inform a more appropriate and responsible way to design. She holds an M.F.A. in design from the Allgemeine Kunstgewerbeschule in Basel Switzerland.

Gideon Kossoff is a social ecologist and design theorist whose research focuses on the relationships between humans and the natural environment and humans and the built and designed world as the foundation for a sustainable society. For many years Kossoff was program administrator and course tutor for the M.S. in holistic science at Schumacher College in Devon England an international center for ecological studies. He developed Schumacher’s extensive library which includes thousands of volumes on topics such as holistic science the esoteric tradition philosophy and history of science ecology globalization ecopsychology and ecodesign and he has spent many years exploring utopianism the history of anti-authoritarian thought and related fields. Kossoff holds a Ph.D. in design from the University of Dundee Scotland. His thesis was entitled “Holism and the Reconstitution of Everyday Life: a Framework for Transition to a Sustainable Society” and his thoughts on transition design are summarized in the recent book Grow Small Think Beautiful.

Cameron Tonkinwise associate professor and director of design studies at the School of Design at Carnegie Mellon University has a background in philosophy. Tonkinwise continues to research what designers can learn from philosophies of making material culture studies and sociologies of technology. Tonkinwise is also chairing the committee that is currently restructuring the School of Design’s Ph.D. program. He has extensive experience with practice-based design research. Tonkinwise comes to the School of Design from Parsons The New School for Design in New York City where he was the associate dean for sustainability. Before that he served as co-chair of the Tishman Environment and Design Center and the chair of design thinking and sustainability in the School of Design Strategies. Previously Tonkinwise was director of design studies at the University of Technology in Sydney Australia and executive director of Change Design formerly known as the EcoDesign Foundation.