Evolving Values By Design


Our values are a measure of intrinsic worth. They are powerful because they have a capacity for us to create stories – one of the greatest gifts that only humans possess. Values empower us with motivation, faith, and a compass to make decisions. 

However, the weight in stories also creates an illusion of stability and certainty. Heraclitus, the Greek philosopher claimed that change is the only constant in life, and what we value is no different. In our espresso paced world how often do we stop, reflect and question the worth of these values or stories? What purpose do they serve? Are they weighing us down or steering us forward? Our ability to adapt what we value is paramount to designing resilient futures. 

We need to allow distance to surface between our values and our present experience in order to shine a spotlight on them. This space allows us to question their worth and our potential relationship between now and our future fate.


In keeping with the theme of resilient futures, let’s explore an example of an evolving value that many of us share towards sustainable living – plastic pollution. Even though research, environmental scientists and the media have repeatedly told powerful stories for decades that plastic is bad for the environment we still find it hard to change our ways and continue to go along with the status quo.

This ability to shed an old value can be exemplified by Waitrose supermarket. They applied a bold policy last year to only serve coffee in customers own cups. They axed disposable cups completely in their commitment to reduce plastic and packaging. This is radical compared to their competitors. Waitrose valued a positive environmental impact over convenience for its customers.

I remember the moment I found out about it vividly. As I eagerly queued for my morning cup of English Breakfast tea at their café in Kings Cross. Approaching the cashier, I was politely told that unless I had a mug (which I had forgotten) my tea would not be sold. Despite my momentary disappointment, this initiative will save 52 million cups a year and in turn has generated a brand value that resonates with customers. They demonstrated to me that they care about the planet and are passionate about change.

Right now, brands that are transparent about environmental values are creating loyal customers – Waitrose won me over, even without my cup of tea. They believe in something that I value – purpose and planet, over profit. They have new stories to tell, yet, going back to my original statement over time these stories will become the default and we will need to question their worth yet again to ensure they are still meaningful in the future and for future generations.

As a designer, I feel a greater sense of purpose when I’m creating something, not only through the act of making but the actual creative process that happens. It allows me the opportunity to think by doing and in turn the doing helps me think. This feedback loop between thinking and making only surfaces in the present; a momentary transitional space. It draws out the imagination to cultivate new ideas, thoughts and emotions. 

Making is connecting.
— David Gauntlett

British sociologist, David Gauntlett, suggests ‘making is connecting’ and that we have to connect things together to make something new. We may take multiple directions which generate possibility. Making new connections can give us permission to explore. We are all makers, whether through simple acts like making coffee or making love. As well as the grander makers of music, fabric or houses. Connecting these ideas with what we value can generate a space where opportunities arise to re-design, re-interpret and even re-claim values that were once abandoned. 

The space to critique, is within the art of making. Within this liminal space we can consciously rest our values on the threshold – between the past and the future. This space is open-minded, it affords reflection, a capacity to let go, the process of learning and most importantly a space to play – in the art of the possible. A chance to embrace a transitional state between stability and change. 

This ability to embrace change can be expressed through the tightrope walker, as a maker of balance and courage. The acrobat may seem to maintain balance by core stability, yet on a closer look are constantly adjusting their posture with micro movements of parts of their body to create the illusion of balance in order to adapt to changes in space.

Perceiving values in this way could influence how we can adapt and evolve them to create resilience, focusing on an outward perspective beyond the status quo and habit. Is it possible to see values that encompass qualities that suggest flux and change? Would it support us to adapt to the world and make better decisions for the future generations that adopt and adapt our values when we are gone? 

This ability to question our values is where the art of making urgently comes into play. We need to make sure values are continuously questioned, re-defined and not only evolve when there is a crisis – changing our values by design and not disaster, is critical to a sustainable future. 

If we are capable of being more like the acrobat and placing our self within the ebb and flow of continuous change, we might catch a glimpse at what makes life worthwhile.  

Kath SimpsonComment