How to design when everything ends?

Destruction of humanity is announced by many science fiction writings. We ventured in a previous article the possibility of an alien attack. In the scenarios’ major part, man is overwhelmed by his own inventions and his annihilation is due to his creations such as robots.

Bioprophets want to see a limitless science and human immortality. This possible dream is breathtakingly quick and provokes anxiety. Facing the alarmist hypothesis of the world’s collapse reflects human’s fear towards his weaknesses and his mortal status.

We have so strongly wanted to push out all humanity from science and  ourselves that we transformed it into inhumanity. Even medicine excludes the body and substitutes it with artificial imaging and robotic surgery. Science analyzes, counts but never individualizes. Man excludes himself from his analytical system and brings about people’s misunderstanding and animosity.

But this fear comes more from the techniques’ used than from the techniques themselves. In « La science est-elle inhumaine? Essai sur la libre nécessité» (Is science inhumane, essay on free necessity) the French philosopher Henri Atlan explains that is it not about techniques but knowledge. And this is how our cohabitation with all these inventions can last and not be destructive.

Furthermore ethical problems are linked not to the techniques but to our social point of view and its evolution (or social Darwinism). We can use techniques as far as we do not loose the respect we owe to all individuals of this world.

We can not forsake the symbolism of things. This value is lead by designers who at their humble scale assure of the understanding of science and its dreams. They are also the safeguards who avoid drifting and human disrespect.

Let’s talk about the case of an apocalypse that is not the fault of the human race, such as an attack from Space or an asteroid. In March 2013, three meteorites brush passed Earth. They could have destroyed an entire city. What would happen if many meteorites or juste a bigger one crashed on our planet? Earth would be devastated, its residents would run away from cities where criminality would increase, society would be suspended or destroyed, goods and food production would be stopped, economy would collapse as well as computer networks.

This context has given place to resourcefulness. The designer could still find his place in this new landscape and bring his knowledge to the good of the people. He would participate in improving living conditions and a possible society reconstruction. What would his practice be based on? To draw a pretty shell around an object now seems useless. We are aware of his inability to save the world but how could he use his skills at their best?

This context requires special ingenious capacities and a close collaboration and exchange with others. It needs adaptation to each situation, person and place. The Post-Apocalyptic designer is more centred on humans than on objects. He could organise production and manufacturing systems. When the economy’s pressure disappears, his narcissism and materialism do too. When the designer’s practicing driving forces are destroyed, the only thing that remains is what should define his design work for now: the ability to love and to help improve other’s daily life.

The apocalyptic situation could be similar to some already known catastrophes like earthquakes, storms, nuclear disasters, volcanic eruptions or tsunamis. We would observe alike shortages like food, water, health care and a loss of comtemporary ways of communication or transportation. These situations are still not managed well enough, even in our society. It is certain that in the middle of a panic movement  a designer could not bring better solutions. This is the reason for which anticipation is essential.

If we take into account all these parameters, we can see that we would find ourselves in complete destitution just like  Earth’s present poorest populations.

To all who consider that these disasters only happen to others and that these emergency situations seems so far from them, I advise to look up at the sky and watch closely because an asteroid could quickly appear and we never know if we could would need such assistance someday. Far be it from me to overstress my readers but I only want them to become aware of the possibility that some research that do not seem to have priority for them can become so more quickly than they think.

And to all who would not be hidden in their bunkers and who believe in society and its possible improvement, I announce: to work on humanitarian projects and existing emergencies is twice as useful because they concern impoverished people but also ourselves in case of a cataclysm. Design’s issues for the century to come will lie on its ability to create objects that respond to real needs, to think in depth about every project, to measure their impact and to formulate them within a collaborative, respectful and generous process.


« La science est-elle inhumaine? Essai sur la libre nécessité», Henri Atlan, Bayard, 2012, France.

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