• Sam Brown

"Being-Centric": Beyond Human-Centric Innovation & Design

On a universal scale, celebrating human centric philosophy is the equivalent to a species celebrating self interest


Not so breaking news: there is a consumerist culture that dominates most of our global society... and it has been criticized to exhaustion as one of the leading causes of ecosystem collapse, loss of meaning, addiction, health problems etc etc... we all know the drill by now.


But, if most of us are so well versed in the line of reasoning that material goods won't bring us happiness, then how is it that we are still celebrating consumerism 50 years after the counter culture emerged to rally against it?


Maybe because consumerism has been re-branded, and every generation is vulnerable to the same mistakes.


At their peak in the 80s, the boomer generation celebrated creating products that would be consumed the most, while the millennial generation, peaking now, celebrate products that are the most user-friendly. What's the difference? Perhaps at least now we acknowledge that the end user isn't just a consumer - but an actual human. So there is some progress, but we've hit a wall where we realize the eco-systems are still degrading, the pandemic of purposelessness is growing, and our mental or physical health isn't improving.


I argue that this is because Human-Centric Design is just another embodiment of consumerism, and that the solution is thinking about different ways we can evaluate and develop ideas with innovation and design practices centered around a different axiom; "Being-Centric" using an axiom of life itself, rather than just a narrow segment of life represented by humanity.

 

The Limitations of Human Centric Design


Human-Centric Design has done a lot to improve usability and accessibility of technology. If we were still designing ideas around the consumerist paradigm of the 50's to the 80s, the touchscreen would probably be a separate screen & keyboard and printers would still be good investment - because refillable things and separate components can be consumed more than an all-in-one user friendly solution. So we can't knock the progress Human Centric Design has made to bring technology into the hands of many.


We can however criticize the new priority of maximizing convenience. Human Centered Design has brought us social media, delivery on demand, instant social validation... almost anything we can want is within a few movements of a finger. If we told people 300 years ago, with just a few movements of your finger, you'd be able to summon new pumpkin seeds for your farm within 15 minutes, they would accuse you of dark magic. With the ideal maxim of Human Centered Design, we will hopefully reduce this from 15 minutes as close to instant as possible. Convenience for the human user is the goal of the current game, but it does come at a cost, and it's a similar trade-off that our obsession with consumerism came with.


Where consumerism celebrated a product that created a dependence in the individual, i.e. sugar, caffeine, tobacco, branding, the age of convenience is now celebrating products that create a new form of dependence. The dependencies have evolved up the Maslow pyramid of needs hierarchy; from physiological dependencies to social dependencies. It's also become a collective dependence, we now need products to organize humanity and communicate.


Our sense of purpose and self authoring capacity is also taking a hit with the new convenience pursuit. With smart algorithms, a large part of our free will is now outsourced to algorithms to choose the next media we consume, or give us guidance on what friend to connect with or which career to pursue based on our personalities and interests. It directs us towards what we should consume.


While consumerism had massive destructive impacts on the physical world, the convenience focus is additionally creating a massive impact on the non physical world - on our culture, on our social priorities, our attention spans and sense of purpose. If this is the collateral damage we are doing to ourselves, we can't even imagine what we are doing to the will of life forms we aren't even intentionally considering.


Consumption and convenience are two heads of the same planet consuming hydra, they both fall within the domain of anthropocentrism - or the belief that humans are exceptional and meaning revolves around our awe inspiring presence. It's the same line of reasoning that we had when we believed the sun revolved around us. Human exceptionalism hasn't served technological or innovation progress well in the past, (think Galileo) - and to think our current era of human centrism is an exception would be committing a logical fallacy.


On a universal scale, celebrating human centric philosophy is the logical equivalent to a species celebrating self centeredness. This is the characteristic of a life form in it's infancy, before it's gained a sense of awareness of other and realized it is surrounded by other living things which it depends on. It makes sense as on a universal scale the human species is in it's infancy, so hopefully it's a matter of time before we start maturing and developing design and innovation practices that reflect a maturing of our species.

 

Alternatives to Human Centric Design Philosophies


There are two alternatives I will explore here; planet centric design which has gained traction in the last few years, and Being-Centered Design and Innovation which I am hoping will be increasingly adopted as our human consciousness evolves into a more integrated state.


With the growing awareness of the ecological crisis, a new way of thinking about design and innovation has emerged which focusses on the nature of interconnectedness and interdependence of the entire planet. It's a holistic approach that promotes long term thinking and sustainability. Despite it's name, it's not only focused on the well being of the planet, but the well being of all systems on the planet that are affected by the long term decisions we make now, i.e. culture and society.


As it is still in its infancy it hasn't yet reached a common consensus for how to achieve its goals, i.e. there is no design thinking handbook like human centric design has as the common template for how to organize teams to reach human oriented outcomes. Instead the design practices usually have 3 core building blocks common between all those that practice it; long - term thinking, systemic thinking, and social accountability. The goal is to create long term positive impact for the world - and by thinking about the impact of design / innovation decisions broadly over time and space enables this approach to achieve sustainable results without compromising the business aspects. After all, business will benefit from ideas that have more longevity than one product cycle.


Planet Centric thinking is a step in the right direction away from consumption and convenience and towards a broader picture. It changes the scope and zoom level of idea development from the micro scale to the macro scale. User centered design is very closely related to microeconomics in it's approach with it's focus on the behavioral impacts on the individual user. Whereas planet design takes a step back and focusses on the context - the human geography of an idea.


 

"Being-Centered" Design & Innovation


"Being-Centered" Design and Innovation is similar in it's scope to Planet-Centered Design. Our framework is designed around the same central pillar of interdependent systems, and a focus on the long term impact of ideas. The one crucial difference, at Sentient Idea, is we believe ideas are... well... sentient, and engaging with ideas is a relationship between ourselves and an idea.


Ideas aren't sentient in the same sense we are, but they are alive in a sense that we can only access via our imaginations. And the imagination is the most powerful tool available to us not only for creating, but for engaging with ideas and taking feedback from them. Ideas adopt us, as much as we adopt them. As such the framework at Sentient Idea focusses on how to engage ideas via active imagination.


The Sentient Idea framework lives by the sentiment expressed best by Elizabeth Gilbert:


"Ideas have no material body, but they do have consciousness, and they most certainly have will. Ideas are driven by a single impulse: to be made manifest. And the only way an idea can be made manifest in our world is through collaboration with a human partner."


The philosophy at Sentient Idea, which can be found here, is based on Mystic systems, Eastern Philosophy, Western Esotericism, Platonism and Jungian Philosophy. It provides a 10 stage system for thinking about and engaging with ideas as an individuation journey. By treating ideas as alive we can empathize and counsel them as if they were a patient. This process increases the creativity capacity of the imagination, as well as creating added incentive to work with ideas in a meaningful and sustainable way. If we are considering ideas as alive, ideas like the planet or ecological system, it would be hard not to adopt a system like Planet-Centered Design out of the emerging responsibility we would feel towards the systems that we literally feel connected to.


Planet-Centered Design would benefit immensely if people were capable of empathizing with the planet. To make compromises for and work towards the well being of the planet, humanity needs more than the knowledge that the long term well-being of the planet will benefit us. Empathy is one of our biggest motivators in life. A person without empathy is seen as almost non-human in the way they treat other humans, so if we cannot empathize with the planet or with other life forms, then we would be approaching the Planet-Centered Design the same way someone without empathy would approach Human-Centered Design. There will be an inherent lack of engagement with the world, unless we are able to view the world as a sentient thing and allow ourselves to empathize with it.


It has only been a brief period in human history where the majority of the people on the planet have collectively believed that the planet is not sentient in some form. Every mythological anecdote has a reference to non-human sentience. To think that we now have a more enlightened view that the world is in fact a non sentient entity, would be committing to a very narrow way of thinking, at least narrow relative to both the history of humanity and the scope of things we can know in the universe.


If you would like to know more about Being-Centered Design and Innovation, please check out ideatry.co the innovation services founded on the Sentient Idea framework that promotes Being-Centered thinking. Also as always - feel free to reach out using the email in the footer.