How our choices today impact the evolution of tomorrow
As a responsible designer, you may have wondered how to make your clients aware of the impact of their design briefs. I have explored this topic in two previous articles: Eliminative Design Manifesto and A simple framework for sustainable design. Now I want to briefly introduce you to the concept of cultural niche construction from evolutionary biology. This can help you frame your design thinking and discussion in a way that is both stimulating and constructive.
Design outcomes, whether they are new or improved products or services, do not exist in isolation. They influence their surroundings, and in turn, their surroundings also change. This environmental change affects both the new and the existing entities.
Creating and sustaining a product or service requires resources and materials from the environment. And when it is no longer used, the leftover substances and effects will also impact the environment. The extraction and disposal of resources and materials not only alter the environment but also change the selection pressure on humans and other living beings through the change in environmental conditions.
Therefore, our design will have more than just economic or cultural impacts, and it will not be limited to its lifespan. The outcome of our design can trigger evolutionary responses with its influence on the natural environment, that is, it can cause lasting changes in future generations of humans and other living beings.
To help designers and their clients to think responsibly about the consequences of their creations, use the theory of cultural niche construction to assess the long-term impact of their the design. This theory examines how human-made artefacts shape the environment and affect the evolution of living things. So I invite designers to consider the following questions:
- How does a new object or service use resources and materials from the environment?
- How does it affect the environment and other living beings during its existence and after its disposal?
- How do these environmental changes alter the selection pressures on future generations of humans and other organisms?
- Will they be able to adapt in a meaningful and sustainable way?
In addition to considering these questions, designers can also engage with experts in fields such as ecology and environmental science to better understand the potential impacts of their designs.
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