Shamanism – an age-old mindset for new designers?

At the present Hong Kong conference on design education, DesignEd Asia, Søren Rosenbak presented examples of new tendencies within experimental and socially engaged design processes. The holistic practice of design interventions (under due considerations of systemic constraints) was a recurrent theme in Søren’s examples from around the world.




Two prevailing images of the designer, ‘the individual stroke-of-genius designer’, and ‘the rational problem solver’, do not seem to capture this practice very well. Granted that wicked problems don’t have a single true solution, and that designers must often seek viable solutions through continuous and contested prototypical interventions, Søren suggests to conceptualize the emergent role of the designer in the image of shamanism.

Through rituals and with the help of different aids, the shaman traditionally acts as a mediator between different worlds. Strongly embedded in the culture and the social order, the shamanic role includes functions such as receiving visions, healing, storytelling and fortune-telling. Playing with ‘what-if’ worlds, multiple possible identities and collaboration thus become central aspects of facilitating change. Design shamanism is ultimately about human empowerment and co-designing for real life change.

Søren is a graduate student at the Royal Danish Academy, School of Design, and currently guest student at Aalto University. Søren was recently given the “Award for Imaginative Critical Intervention to support critical thinking, the ability to see situations as they are and imagine them differently in a way that can emancipate and lead to transformation through intervention”. Congratulations!

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