Is co-creation desirable? Doesn't it force cooperation and stifle breakthrough creativity? Doesn't it strip away our sense of reality as individuals? These are questions I constantly face, teaching at the Department of Design, Tokyo University of the Arts.
On the contrary, without co-creation, there can be no innovation. Inevitably, to bring the knowledge or skills of experts in diverse fields to life, some kind of collaborative platform is needed. Current social issues are also too complex for any one person, however gifted, to resolve. Especially in design targeting social issues, community design, co-design, participatory design, and inclusive design are key concepts. In contemporary art, co-creation is found in relational art, socially engaged art, and participatory art around the world.
It must be carefully coordinated, however, and is hardly as simple as hoping that if everyone contributes, everyone will be satisfied. Co-creation is difficult. Two heads are not always better than one.
Contributors may not be working toward the same purpose, and heated confrontations may even occur.
Co-creation requires its own techniques and arrangements. Techniques that make it easier to bring out others' strengths. Expertise and etiquette to encourage constructive criticism, without allowing discussions to be swayed by people's status or age, or how loud their voice is. The process of building consensus for co-creation takes time and effort. It is hard to describe this form of production as economically efficient. But when this time and effort is invested in consensus building to ensure the results will satisfy all contributors, organizations can update the techniques and arrangements of co-creation to suit the times or the goals of other projects.
The same applies to democracies. A democracy is a decision-making system enabling elections after ample discussion among members with equal rights. In practice, however, this takes much time and effort. Moreover, majority rule does not always yield optimal solutions. But carefully maintaining a democratic system boosts an organization's metabolism and ultimately increases the prospect for sustainable growth. This makes well-maintained democracies a good match for capitalism. In contrast, citizens in even the best of dictatorships live with the threat of stagnation or disorder over the long term, as leaders die or their charisma fades.
Those of us in Japan live in a democratic state, though from day to day we are not often keenly aware of this fact. Politicians seem far removed, and for many people, everyday decision making at a corporate or government office involves conveying the will of the governing to the governed. Still, democratic ideals pervade life here, in deciding where most of us want to go for dinner, voting for a Good Design Grand Award winner, and other matters.
Ideologies are systems of beliefs that determine how people should behave or lead their lives. The ideology of capitalism - an emphasis on economic growth (assuming no stability without growth), intertwined with an insatiable desire for more - has penetrated our lives. Emblematic of this situation are convenience stores, which serve their mission of providing greater convenience. In such a landscape, it is harder to discern what democracy looks like.
Yet as mentioned, capitalism is not antithetical to democracy. A well-maintained, process-oriented stance can change the probable stagnation or failure from a simplistic, results-oriented and growth-obsessed stance into sustainable growth.
To do so, we must appreciate the time and effort invested in a process. We must find it aesthetically appealing. This attitude is not aligned with utilitarianism, which is focused only on whether something is economical. Nor does this labor-intensive approach involve asking ourselves what is right or morally correct. It is concerned not with correctness but with beauty. The time and effort invested is a matter of aesthetics.
With this realization, the designer's realm comes into view. What designers can present as everyday aesthetics represent various attitudes: coexistence of diverse, independent individuals; open-mindedness; open, constructive discussion; transparency of process; equal opportunity; and tolerance and respect. In other words, today's designers are responsible for tracing out democratic ideals beautifully in the fabric of everyday life.
From this perspective, substantially more entries in this year's program deserve recognition. Hoshinotani Danchi highlighting the beauty of resident-centered neighborhood building. A beautifully compiled Igokochi Book distilled from 100,000 ideas submitted by 1,222 households. An art-infused, designer-guided Good Job! Project for disabled job seekers. Super Welfare Expo presented in a favorable, beautiful light. Tsutaeru Kotsu, an open program supporting more beautiful, efficient communication by NPO, and the Revival of CHUSEN Dyeing in Utsunomiya, a museum-led initiative to bring back traditional dyeing in a community. Each represents a careful investment of time and effort in processes of co-creation.
Rather than being labor-saving devices, some intriguing entries stood out for how they invite users to enjoy spending a bit of time and effort on them. In the PS-HX500 turntable/recorder, MaBeee enabling creative wireless control, and tent-Mark DESIGNS MAKIKON rocket stove, design enhances the beauty of processes in the user experience.
In view of all this, is co-creation truly desirable? Surely we need designers and artists who show us what is compelling About new lifestyles or ideologies that appeal to us personally on a deeper level than the democratic or capitalistic apparatuses that we have internalized. As for students, they are open to these challenges, so my own preoccupations as a design educator are far from settled.