Sommersemester 2011, GreenLab

GREEN DESIGN 2.0 PROJEKTE : Slow Thinking...


Slow Thinking...stitching together ideas in time...learning from nature


‘I was wondering about in the world looking for an interesting place to be, when I realised that where I was, was already interesting’ Emmet Gowan ‘Above the fruited plain’ *


When thinking about slow design philosophies one is never too far away from thinking about nature, place and local identities and whilst not literally slowing down or doing things slowly, having a slower experience, being aware, going through the process and noticing the unknown may be part of the ‘slower’ experience. It’s a truism that we often overlook the most obvious things in our environments, either dismissing them or not even noticing the daily changes that happen around us. These days it may be easier to communicate with someone in another part of the world and not even know our neighbours’ names, whilst there is wider acknowledgement of the impact of collaborative thinking and how ideas can grow in different ways.


The author and thinker Steven Johnson has recently defined the term ‘the slow hunch’** as being a process of longer incubation, the stitching together of ideas and things that fade into view over longer period of time. In his latest book ‘Where ideas come from: the natural history of innovation’*** he ends by suggesting to readers:

“You need only survey a coral reef (or a rain forest) for a few minutes to see that competition for resources abounds in this space...But that is not the source of its marvellous biodiversity...What makes the reef so inventive is not the struggle between the organisms but the way they have learned to collaborate – the coral and the zooxanthellae and the parrotfish borrowing and reinventing each other’s work...


Go for a walk; cultivate hunches; write everything down; but keep your folders messy; embrace serendipity; make generative mistakes; take on multiple hobbies, frequent coffee houses and other liquid networks; follow the links; let others build on your ideas; borrow, recycle, reinvent”****


So what is the value of spending sustained time in a place, watching it anew, looking for things that we have not seen, heard or thought of before? How people work, how they live, how they move about, what they leave behind in this process and how we observe this in consideration of our own daily routines may offer us new insight and processes in thinking and making/formulating designs in innovative and sustainable ways.


And how does this relate to nature and what systems can we find or develop that relate to the collection of data and generation of new ideas? How does this define a process of thinking and development that can generate new ideas and how does it help us to define new thinking about sustainability as a group?


In this project we attempted to get below the surface, to notice the un-noticed, to work collaboratively, to share and shift ideas around in order to find new design directions. We aimed to think about the local, mapping out areas, we defined them using systems and methodologies borrowed from nature. Our aim was to find out something about the place we are located in, perhaps a question, issue or a problem and to offer a solution, perhaps in the form of a literal or metaphorical tool that can be used in some way by those engaged daily in or moving through this place/space. In order to develop a process we aimed to look at systems that have been used to collect data that define place/space and that have been used to develop thinking and practice across time. Each student was able to relate his/her particular design discipline to the brief.


Aims and Objectives

Slow Thinking...stitching together ideas in time...learning from nature aimed to explore concepts of Slow philosophies, co-design, reflective and process-led practices through dialogue and design:

• explore dialogues and texts that support and extend the theory behind slow design and thinking

• move into individual and group practice through discussion

• enable making, agency, and design thinking for designers.

• explore concepts in nature that offer new or metaphorical ways of thinking about networks, making and ways of developing sustainable practices

• be reflective: aiming to reveal experiences in everyday life that are often overlooked but could offer new insight into design processes

• use mapping processes and principles to develop a process-based project

• collect material that signifies this process driven stance

• employ natural systems to address issues or challenges that we encounter


The project begun with a four-day intensive workshop where we aimed to:

• develop and integrate systems from nature that we can use in a collection and mapping process

• walk and journey and make observations

• define relationships between humans and nature by observing short-term day–to-day impacts and longer term temporally evolved traces of co-existence on the ground, in the city

• map and record our observations through sound, images, objects, stories, histories etc

• identify small change and activity which we may observe through walking known or unknown routes, by understanding known, unknown place through journeying and travelling

• collect or observe material change in a place through time

• use empirical and experimental methodologies.

• develop ideas for a project which tests ideas of sustainability in your local environment

• understand how you use place as a catalyst for design thinking


More information about Slow Design and Helen Carnac in a blog:



The four-day project was used as a starting point from which we aimed to collect a multitude of information, employing different systems in which to do this. Over the duration of the semester our further aim was to:

• build a repository of information of the locations mapped, both individually and as a group

• map how this collaborative thinking enables ideas to grow

• think about how this ‘slow’ thinking and collecting of observations informs the development of our own work

• identify a local need/problem/question from your data collection

• develop a design brief

• find a suitable methodology from your own site of practice (textiles, fashion, product, graphic design) that may offer a way to approach/develop a system to answer your need/problem/question

• conceptualise and develop new materials, new thinking patterns, new networks, systems, models, processes and/or objects that relate to and inform your practices as designers and to aim to think in new and or unknown ways.


Through this we asked if collaborative practice can ultimately offer a more sustainable way to develop ideas and systems in order to make change and if by using natural systems we can find more sustainable and longer term methodologies in developing new ideas on place?


The selected findings from the project were presented at a public event: the Slow Summit, held in London 8th July 2011 and co-convened by Helen Carnac and TFRC



Project brief by H. Carnac


* Gowan, G ‘Above the fruited plain’

** Steven Johnson Where Good Ideas come from TED talks

*** Johnson, J. 2010 Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation, Allen Lane Publishing

**** Johnson, J. 2010 Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation, Allen Lane Publishing

Teilnehmer Eriko Adelberg-Shinji, David Osthoff, Christine Hausen, Elise Bombled