Are you being designed?

A process called “design thinking” is being utilized by corporations, academia, and the state to disguise violence and displacement. Basically it works like this:

Scenario 1

The university wants to build expensive dorms on People’s Park to “develop the potential of the area” and create a “win-win-win” situation. Naturally, the UC thinks the free green space, presence of poor people hanging out and playing music is “impeding development.” So they hire some firms like LMS Architects to design a number of models of what they “could” (read: intend to) build there, and Walter Hood Studio to design a nice “monument” to the lives they are displacing. UC and these design firms hold a public input session to “discuss” these “solutions.” You find out about the meeting and go with a bunch of people who live at and use the park. The “discussion” is a speech by somebody from the design firm showing off multiple “potential models” of the buildings that will replace the park. You and your friends get mad and start asking questions about what will happen to the people who live there, breaking into loud chants at times. Security people show up, but the designer tells them to let you speak. The designers say you and your friends make interesting points and she’d like your ideas to be incorporated into the new plans.

You feel confused, angry, but strangely hopeful that this big-wig might take your concerns into account. The designer has everyone at the session split into small groups to discuss different aspects of the plan like “public usage,” “beautification,” “security” and “community impact”… you and your friends are split up to try to variously influence the official people there to talk about why this plan will displace you. The meeting ends, the free snacks are eaten. You and your friends leave, the official plan will move forward unchanged.

Scenario 2

A mass campus movement has called for the abolition of campus police and funding and creation of a food pantry open to the public. After months of silence or repression, the Chancellor suddenly invites prominent or well-connected students of the movement to join a new advisory council on “Re-imagining Campus Security and Basic Needs.”

Despite the university having hundreds of administrators whose job it is to move money around and establish new programs, they want you to take the lead on this re-imagining. The committee will have 2 radical students, 2 student politician types who hand-wave and do nothing, and 4 administrators with fancy titles who are there to “help” you understand how to implement your ideas (i.e. tell you why it’s so complicated and how you can’t get anything done). After months of “learning the ropes” of university budgets or administration, the committee will run out of time. It produces a 50-page report and disbands. None of the movement’s demands will be implemented, but the committee’s report will continually be cited by the chancellor to justify the continuation of the status quo.

Disorientation recommends the following response to “design”: Flip the tables, make a lot of noise, don’t listen to anything they tell you! It’s all bullshit. Start getting organized, and grow a militant movement until your demands are realized!

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