1. About the author
In the landscape of design theory, Anne-Marie Willis can be found at seemingly odd intersections. Her article Design Back from the Future showed how long-term/big picture thinking about time can create more informed design scenarios. Her most recent book The Design Philosophy Reader is described as a “pioneering work” in the discipline of design philosophy. Currently, she studies at the intersection of design and fiction at the University of Adelaide. In this paper, however, Willis dives deep into the complicated, often murky relationship between people and time and, as such, demands the full attention of the reader.
2. Indicate 5 meaningful keywords
Temporalities are a way of framing our perception of time, and how that affects the perception of the reality we construct around us. In part one, Willis introduces us to a charcuterie board of different temporalities. The temporalities presented in this initial section all broadly exist within the euro-centric, capitalist perception of time, and all serve to illustrate different ways of thinking about time in relation to the current climate crisis.
Worlding is the act of creating the reality around us. It is the foundation for all our actions and beliefs. Temporalities contribute to how we lay such foundations, and so the temporalities we subscribe to directly affect our actions, beliefs and decision making. If worlding is the foundation of our reality, temporalities are the clinker.
Defuturing is a concept introduced by Tony Fry, another of this book’s contributors, and author of Defuturing: A New Design Philosophy. In his words, defuturing is the “destruction of futures by design”. That is to say, how our current design philosophies and practices, remove the opportunity for a future.
Willis uses a repeated phrase that I feel really drives home the gravity of defuturing. In the first part of the text titled “Planet Time,” Willis describes our view of the climate crisis over the past 25 years as “a problem of the future travelling towards us.” Then, in the final parts of the chapter, Willis echoes this prior sentence, stating how the effects of climate change are driving “the defutured future travelling towards us.” Both sentences articulate a looming threat, and the repeated phrase forces a comparison. A “problem” on the horizon can be dealt with, but when there is no future and no horizon there is nothing to be fixed.
Time as measured vs. time as lived, illustrate two foundational views on the concept of time. Time as measured or clock-time is a method of instrumentation that Willis describes as a “reduction.” It is spatialized and linear and serves as a container or framework. With this understanding, time is a past headed towards a future, it can be gained or lost. It is a draining hourglass. Time as measured, under the western ideology, also contains a contradictory relationship with the past where it is both glorified and reduced. It is to be learned from, but something “in the past” is no longer relevant.
Time as lived allows time to be something that is encountered. It links time directly to humans through change. As humans, and all things, change, they experience time in a series of interconnected cycles. The cycle of birth, existence and death defines all things, and like gears in a clock, these cycles drive each other.
3. Articulate a significant idea and 3-5 points that support the argument
Building on Heidegger’s thinking that humans are ‘being towards death’ Willis determines that our understanding of death determines how we live. Or perhaps more broadly, it is our understanding of finitude that determines how we live.
Within our architecture, there is a trend throughout human history. From the great pyramids of Egypt, to the Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque, to the remote churches that dot Antarctica, humans have been allocating significant resources to structures that serve as an intercession between the mortal and immortal. Furthermore, those that subscribe to these doctrines structure their lives and communities, to varying degrees, around those beliefs.
Willis further backs up this point by postulating that all cosmologies exist to explain the “radical finite temporality” of existence. Christianity does so by separating the immortal and the mortal, where humans have the opportunity to transcend to the immortal, and material items do not. Matter is downgraded. What Willis calls “the abolishment of the immortal” (a combination of scientific advancement and catastrophes) has led to further “downgrade” the mortal. The current prevalent western understanding of finitude is that nothing lasts forever and so why use matter responsibly. In her words: “we’re all going to die, we might as well enjoy the now.”
According to Danowski and Viveiros de Castro, in Amerindian cosmology, the present exists between a “chaotic before time” and an “apocalypse” (although I’d argue the present is pretty chaotic as well.) According to this understanding of finitude, work must be done to ensure balance or harmony. To paraphrase Willis “we’re all going to die unless we maintain the now.”
4. Include a piece of text taken directly from that week’s reading that you found most compelling
“Defuturing happens in the context of a global economic system infused with a mythology of progress which is nothing to do with noble ideas about curing diseases, eliminating poverty, etc., and everything to do with gratuitous innovation, novelty, and the generation of millions of solutions to non-problems”
This sentence spoke to me most from the text as I believe it illustrates the disconnect that is at the heart of the climate crisis. The current global economic system was largely developed after the second world war as a means for the world to rebuild. While it succeeded in many areas, it’s clear at this point in time that it’s missing the mark. “Progress… curing disease, eliminating poverty, etc.” were the intentions of this system (or perhaps the intentions of the system that were sold to the public). “Gratuitous innovation, and the generation of millions of solutions to non-problems” are the actual result of the system. While these weren’t the only intentions and results of the system they broadly illustrate the disconnect and can offer guidance as to how to move forward.
5. Reflect on why you think this is meaningful/relevant to the field of design; what questions/challenges/insights does it pose for your own practice or design as a discipline at large?
A lot is covered in this reading and for me, there are a number of somewhat disparate takeaways.
The Amerindian temporality seems the most accurate for the current form of human civilization. Rituals and practices must be undertaken in order to maintain balance and avoid apocalypse, which is undeniable. Additionally, the balance that must be maintained is far more specific and quantifiable than ever before: CO2 emissions have to be curbed, non-renewable resources must be phased out, and more broadly speaking, a culture around consumerism replaced.
This represents a broad shift in our thinking about time that we must move towards. One of the reasons for the slow or lack of transition is that the current thinking holds up well for many of the people in power. By viewing time as something that is “running out” before the climate crisis we set ourselves a deadline. For the majority of the world, this deadline is the difference between life and death… but not for the powerful minority that controls most resources. Life will go on for those that can afford it. To quote Douglas Adams: “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing sound they make as they fly by,” or in the words of Lord Farquaad of Shrek (2001) “Some of you may die, but that is a sacrifice I am willing to make.”
Finally, in the most specific sense, Willis’ descriptions of fast fashion and how poorly the price of clothing reflects its cost further fueled my personal crusade against it. Some of the most powerful companies in the world are dependent on wasteful consumerism to keep their investors satisfied, and the institutions in the United States are too weak to fully combat this. Part of the change required needs to come from the people. There needs to be a combination of replacing the most harmful products and services and shifting the culture away from consumerism. It’s good to replace that fast fashion jacket with a “greener” one, but better to not buy a new jacket at all.
- Willis, A.M. (2020). Designing Time. In Fry, T., & Nocek, A. (Eds.) Design in Crisis: New Worlds, Philosophies and Practices. Routledge.
- Bloomsbury.com. (n.d.). The design philosophy reader. Bloomsbury. https://www.bloomsbury.com/ca/design-philosophy-reader-9780857853493/.
- Willis, A.-M. (2014). Designing back from the future. Design Philosophy Papers, 12(2), 151–160.
- Adams, D. (2005). The salmon of doubt. Perfection Learning.
- Adamson, A. Jenson, V. (2001). Shrek. Dreamworks.