Professor Stuart Walker, who holds the Chair of Design for Sustainability at Lancaster University in the UK, speaks to Pat Coyle of Irish Jesuit Communications about spirituality and design after presenting a paper on the topic at the Spirituality in Society and the Professions international conference in Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT) on 16 May 2019. Here, he presents the case for a more explicit consideration of values in the work of designers. In turn, this leads to a form of design practice that draws on the philosophical and spiritual traditions of one’s culture.
Professor Walker, who is also co-founder and a Director of Imagination Lancaster Creative Research Lab, points out that over consumption – promoted by advertising – goes against what we know about human psychology, i.e., it is not material goods but the quality of our relationships that promotes happiness. So, he asks if design practice can align to longer lasting values.
He looks to the spiritual dimension of design as an alternative to where the economic system of consumerism is taking us: “We have to look inwards into the heart, not just think with the head, but also feel with the heart”. During his presentation at WIT, he displayed products such as spectacles that were designed and made from natural raw materials which could then be reused or recycled without a negative impact on the environment.
In his research at Lancaster University, Professor Walker found that a number of groups of workers were motivated by more spiritual-related values, e.g., giving back to the community rather than seeking profit as the primary goal. He also refers to traditional work such as knitting that is contemplative in nature and that continues to exist through adapting and changing slowly over time.
Professor Walker stresses the positive design practice of younger people and the innovative way in which they do business. “They are using local resources, they are reusing, recycling, repairing, lending, developing new kinds of service-based sectors which are about local community, and that’s very hopeful I think”.
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