Playing in the danger - safety polarity

Our unsustainable designed world has placed our species in danger of extinction, yet paradoxically human innovation and design also represents the greatest flowering of our species' creative brilliance. As a reflection of the consciousness of human beings, design reflects the spectrum of consciousness from extremely dangerous to extremely innocuous (impotent or irrelevant). Innocuous or ‘safe’ design is its own kind of danger; satisficing, performing the mediocre, unconsciously reproducing malevolence, following the secure path of the profession rather than leading change.


Our anthropocentric and ethnocentric ways make us dangerous to other forms of life. We are in fact, ‘the most dangerous animal of all’ (Smith, Agamben, Fry). Design is therefore as dangerous as we are. As creatives we know that without risk there is no opportunity, no value, nothing at stake. Therefore artists, designers and CEOs are all trained to seek if not crave, risk. That state of uncertainty, which feels a bit dangerous to human beings yet is also the source of great insights, was dubbed “abductive reasoning” by Charles Saunders Pierce and The Workmanship of Risk by David Pye.

Systems theories that attempt to reduce reality to flat maps or networks provide a false sense of security while failing to capture the depth of the experiential territory. Designers need to know that inter-system complexity is always present. The shift to sustainability thinking has much to do with comprehending the multiple systems which every object, environment, and behavior relationally comprise, impact and enact. 

The skillful designer cultivates the ability to suspend the need for certainty in order to consciously play in the polarity of safety and danger. Feeling systems is a leading edge practice toward the re-humanization of our mental geography to account for all dimensions of reality in our designing. It starts with leaning into complexity, feeling the fear, and recognizing patterns within the field in their dangerous fullness.