How Useful is Humanism?


John Wood, Emeritus Professor of Design at Goldsmiths, University of London, writes in Core 77 on whether HUman Centered Design is enough to solve complex issues. As he breaks down the human centered design philosophy, it uncovers a central belief in humanism which I found to be interesting.

One of the things we might deduce from Weizenbaum’s experiment is that educated people become very susceptible to suggestion, once they are placed at the center of their emotional universe. The idea of user-centered design grew out of ‘humanism’, which can be traced to ancient Greece and the early Christians, who came to value the differences between individuals. However, while humanism has many admirable qualities, it is a dangerously incomplete basis from which understand things.

If we were to make a caricature of the humanistic world in picture-book terms, Nature would be depicted as a faint grey backdrop, with people standing out in bright colours. The growth of humanism gave us a strong belief in free will. More recently, in the era of consumption, it has tended to make us restless and unsatisfied. This is a paradox. In the 21st century, never have so many people had so much access to so much information. Yet, our species has become increasingly disconnected from the complex ecosystem that nourishes and sustains it. This is because, for the sake of convenience, we have manipulated, or dumbed-down our perceptions of what is immediately around us. What should worry designers, in particular, is that they played a major part in creating this artificial, user-centered world.

As with all processes and imagination, the lack of grounding can often see ideas take a life of its own. That is where asking key questions about your prototype is essential and core to the co-creation process of Theory U.

Take the opportunity to learn more about throw U at the Presencing Foundation Program Asia 2013, to be held in Bali. Visit for more information


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