It’s a strange combination of two words, that feels more like a self-loosening node, whose components don’t quite fit together: “Designing Hope”. Something about Hope makes us believe that this concept is immune to the ephemeral character of design. In most people the two words together provoke the overtly moral reflex to separate them again from each other, even though contemporary politics and their design of a certain kind of hope prove them wrong on a daily basis. So what’s so outlandish about designing hope?

First of all there are these two very vague terms, that we just use all the time without even knowing what we actually mean by them. That’s why we should take a closer look at them. Because it escaped last from Pandora’s infamous box I will start with hope. It’s not totally clear where dreams stop and hope begins but you could say that hope is the more realistic of the two, even though it’s not as full of purpose and agitating as motivation. So why do we hope for something at all? Everyone who ever tried to imagine a world without hope can quite easily answer that question. Even at our lowest we as humans can stay wildly optimistic and still see the light at the end of the tunnel. That’s because of hope. Hope lets us see a future, even a most improbable one. Hope keeps us directed towards the future. If you lose hope, you actually lose your own temporality and you don’t have time there’s also no place for hope in your life. Because of its close connection to time, hope as an emotion builds a bridge between the rational and emotional parts of our understanding, which is essential to both finite and infinite human existence. We as humans always want to leap over our own limitations and our mortality. Driven by hope we always aim higher and want more. Constantly we are torn in the middle, stretched out in all directions of time and yet we exist right now in the present moment. Hope seems to be what expands and stretches our reasonable and psychological muscles for this balancing act and lets us endure it. It prepares us for the leap out of our own center, while one of our legs stands in the seemingly safe past and the other stretches hopeful into an unknown future. Hope nestles itself asymptotically against action and pushes until they are finally set into motion. Hope is the foundation of the future of our action, whether it be rational or affective. The ability to hope is our agency, our potentiality par excellence.

Now that we have dwelled in the all so pathetic depths of human existence we can turn to something that seemingly couldn’t be more superficial: design. Perhaps that’s why most people think these two terms should repel each other like magnets. But let me tell you something about design, that might change that conception. The ontological flexibility of design makes it an undefinable term. What at first may sound surprising solidifies itself once you try to get closer to what design is. Under closer examination it’s supposed essence slips away. There are only countless attempts to explain what design is supposed to be. Each of which illuminates other aspects of the term and extends and stretches it a little further. The interesting thing is that these attempts at explanation have been and always will be part of the debate about design, and thus be a part of the design discipline itself. So let me start with my attempt of a definition. Modern design starts to separate itself from craft when the products and images produced and designed reflect both the society in which they work and the design process itself. This type of design begins in the middle of the 19th century in England. Provoked by the social, economic and laboral effects of the industrialization, the Arts & Crafts movement demanded a return to the workshop to improve the relationship of the people to their environment and their work. Paradoxically design’s separation from craft took place by demanding that design should return to it, which, on closer examination however is of course a completely different thing. The withdrawal from being holisticly embedded into everyday life and routine in a workshop to the pre-production sketching board of industrial mass production made designers reflect on society through their designs. Design is always linked to a social question and with that to the aspiration to improve society. At this point of my consideration it should be clear that design actually isn’t something superficial at all. It is quite clear that design changes and shapes society. In this context, hope is once again the central link. Design creates hope and together they change society. This refers not only to the ephemeral products and images of the superfluous society, but the invisible processes of the social structure are designed as well as our thoughts and emotions can be shaped. All in the name of a better tomorrow that is constantly promised to us. Even our own self is not safe from design and optimization and we are constantly busy improving ourselves. But let’s stop at this thought that the silicon valley technology evangelists would most certainly sign happily, too. This essentialization of design is exactly where the pioneers of social engineering went wrong. Here I have to defend that in which others see the weakness of design: its superficiality. The effects that design has on society are never immediate. They are mediated, unplannable and superficial in the best way possible. Design contingently builds itself up upon the tension between necessity and freedom. This tension creates design’s biggest potential that defines it not as a tool to improve society but as a social construct itself. Through design we can see that everything is changeable. There is no design without a re-design.

Now we come to the final question of this essay. Is there a possibility to design hope, although hope is a complex feeling and design is always mediated and superficial? As I have tried to illustrate, I would doubt that design can directly shape hope. But if we look at the possibility of the conditions of hope, design can play a crucial part. There may be only a small difference between the design of hope and the design of conditions for hope. For me, however, it is the difference which decides whether one can speak of genuine hope at all. The conditions for hope are relatively easy to explain because these have long been a topic in management literature under the keyword of motivation. First, hope needs a foundation on which to build on. And as with everything human, the foundation for this possibility of hope is formed by other people. As a second prerequisite for hope, I would cite its potential. Of course there is also the almost blind hope in completely hopeless situations and for some this would be the real, authentic hope. A hope for better knowledge, similar to faith. But if I want to think about how one could design hope, how to provoke hope in others, I do not believe that this hope can be completely unrealistic. This potential of hope is divided into two components. On the one hand, hope must appear realistic. On the other hand, it appears to be realistic when the individual actors experience recognition in their individual hope and see potential for the realization of a shared hope. The recognition of the individual actors and their ability to act is the decisive factor. Thirdly, this acknowledgment leads us to the last precondition – although it is not so much a condition of hope, it should rather be the consequence of it: the responsibility of hope. This results from the recognition of an agency, which gives the hopeful individual an independent potential for the self-determined realization of hope. These are the three conditions of a genuine communal hope, where design’s potential could be applied. The design of these conditions seems now more necessary than ever, where hope has been misused and co-opted.


Der Text erschien im Magazin des NODE 17