"One of the most generous and humane definitions of what it means to be a designer comes from Sara Hendren, author of the forthcoming book, What Can a Body Do? How We Meet the Built World. In 2016, she gave a talk at the Eyeo Festival…and in her talk, "Design for Know-Nothings, Dilettantes, and Melancholy Interlopers,” she speculates on a series of other words and phrases for "designer, and one of them is "orchestrator of attention."
I’ve come back to that ever since: orchestrator of attention. Compared to a solutionist or product-oriented version of design, orchestrating attention may look like nothing at all. But I would argue that it is the most substantive work you can do.
In How to Do Nothing, one of the questions I ask is about the definition of productivity. I ask, productive of what, for whom, and why? For example, how can a company that ever more efficiently figures out how to monetize attention for financial gain, economically entrap the vulnerable, or extract more resources from the earth be considered productive in even the narrowest sense of the word? And on the other hand, what could be more productive than giving someone greater access to their own experience, to a world that is richer and makes more sense -and therefore a World in which they have agency? As someone whose perception of their surroundings has been fundamentally altered by artists like Oliveros and Hendren, I am always astounded by how generative this work is. When someone orchestrates your attention, it literally "produces" the presence of things in your World that were not there before. my screen."
Jenny Odell, Inhabiting the Negative Space, May 28 2020 Virtual Commencement at Harvard University Graduate School of Design
"Guided by my heritage of a love of beauty and a respect for strength-in search of my mother's garden, I found my own."
Alice Walker, In Search of our Mother's Gardens, 1967
“People often ask me what one thing I would recommend to restore relationship between land and people. My answer is almost always, “Plant a garden.” It’s good for the health of the earth and it’s good for the health of people. A garden is a nursery for nurturing connection, the soil for cultivation of practical reverence. And its power goes far beyond the garden gate—once you develop a relationship with a little patch of earth, it becomes a seed itself."
Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Kimmerer
But maybe you don’t need to be explainable. Maybe the most interesting perspectives come from being willing to occupy a difficult-to-define place, even if it means sacrificing others' understanding of you. The challenge then becomes committing to occupy that place far longer than most feel comfortable — long enough to cultivate a voice out of your curiosity that is confident enough in its own continuity to tell you exactly what’s worth committing to when the time comes.
"Hope is often trivialized or overlooked rather than cultivated, despite the fact that people and movements are likely to collapse in its absence."
"Hope locates itself in the premises that we don’t know what will happen and that in the spaciousness of uncertainty is room to act. When you recognise uncertainty, you recognise that you may be able to influence the outcomes – you alone or you in concert with a few dozen or several million others."