The World as a Romanesco Broccoli: Representing Today's Complexity

The World as a Romanesco Broccoli: Representing Today's Complexity

Published 20th February 2018
Dominique Sciamma

Director & Dean, Strate School of Design

Published 20th February 2018

Think of a romanesco broccoli, which is fractal and is composed of elements looking exactly like itself. Likewise, Dominique Sciamma, Director & Dean of the Strate School of Design calls for humanity to be a network of co-owners, sharing the same intentions to tackle the world's complexity. It is time to turn from a separation approach to one that is synergic and design-based. It is a Romanesco time.

The challenge: Giving shape to the world

A simple look to the continuous flow of images and words coming from media seems to confirm the impossibility to read, understand, drive and even less transform a world ruled by forces out of our control.

Futility is equalled to vulgarity, simplism to populism, and nation states are powerless in front of entities bigger than them, without any shape, frontiers and second thoughts.

Yet, numerous signs legitimately give us hope. A universally rising level of education, a declining infant mortality rate, citizens asking for more power, and alternatives to antique ways of working, producing or cultivating.

This is the challenge we are now facing in the 21st century: the challenge of complexity, of openness, of technologies, of emancipation. The answers to those challenges are known: intelligence – both individual and collective - creativity, education, culture, and empathy.

The speed of change, as well as its nature, makes it mandatory for us to question and change our ways of thinking, creating, producing, and communicating.

To do so, we have to acknowledge – and forget – a concept that made for 200 years our wealth and that will be our loss if we do not escape from it.

From separation to complexity

René Descartes, known for "Discourse on the Method", was a great scientist and philosopher who laid out the foundation of modern sciences. He based it on an analytical approach separating problems into smaller pieces.

He also thought of the world as a gigantic clock, with the promise for humans to be the clockmakers. To understand things you just had to separate them into their components. To make things you just had to build and assemble their components. 

The Industrial Revolution and the related paradigms we are still living with are based on separation, and it had a huge impact of the way society is thought and organised.

The Industrial Revolution has indeed split the production process into a sequence of meaningless actions. Everyone works at their task, and may not know what he or she is contributing to.

It is time for Complexity. And Edgar Morin can enlighten us.

Since the end of the fifties, this French philosopher and sociologist has developed a new method praising complexity and complex thought.

By acknowledging the complexity of the world, we need a new approach – a holistic one – to read, understand, represent and exploit the world in all its manifestation without breaking them into pieces. Things, projects, and organisations cannot be understood, produced or ruled anymore through separation. There has to be a synergic approach. This has a huge impact on how we produce things, work together, live together.

We have to forget René, and choose Edgar.

We have to leave the assembly line and jump to design.

Design is a humanism

The word design comes from the Italian word disegno, meaning both "drawing" and "purpose". In the style of Da Vinci, design is reconciling art and science, reason and imagination, left and right brain, Thinking and Doing. Those concepts, knowledge, and even more, attitudes, are embodied by one category of persons: designers.

Design is about drawing, and more generally about representing. A designer has this fantastic capacity to use representation techniques during the whole design process: imagining, thinking, creating, solving, modeling, testing, and communicating. Because he always "draws", he thinks in a different way, a singular way.

Design is also about serving a purpose. It means that, at every moment, humans are at the heart of every thought, creation and proposition.

Because Design is the only option to tackle complexity and transform the world into a better place, it will have huge consequences in terms of education policies and human organisation.

A Romanesco time

Education to live with and to work positively with other human beings means that we need to build all educational programmes with a purpose in mind, through a project driven pedagogy. We need to always know why we are doing what we are doing.

Imagine a world where everybody acts as a designer, whatever the project they are working on, big or small. Imagine the world itself as a big project, encapsulating projects encapsulating projects. No matter how small, all of those projects, as in a hologram, contain the bigger project.

All of those projects contain and serve the same purpose, and each player is therefore owner of it. Think of a romanesco broccoli, which is fractal. The broccoli itself is composed of elements looking exactly like itself. No matter how much you zoom in, you will always find the same structure.

Forget the assembly line, where everyone was doing meaningless gestures, and welcome the network of co-owners!

We are at a time and a space made of meaningful projects, in which all holders are sharing consciously and empathically the same intention.

A Romanesco time.

Let's design it together.

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