Matsutake scrambleCreative Commons Attribution license 2.0 by Eugene Kim

Cedar meets harakeke

Students from two countries engage with the "more-than-human" world.

Ecologist David Abram's phrase "the more-than-human world" speaks of the entanglement of human beings with the rest of the natural world. A deep engagement with the natural world is a strength of many indigenous cultures, and this interconnected perspective encourages designers to move beyond human-centred design.

Associate Professor Caro McCaw's communication design students in Ōtepoti Dunedin worked in collaboration with Louise St Pierre's students at Emily Carr University in Vancouver. The two design schools connected through DESIS, an international network of design labs that research social innovation and sustainability. The students' research project tasked them with becoming advocates for a non-human being in their own locality. Each student produced a species card for themselves as well as for their chosen non-human being, positioning humans among rather than above non-humans. 

Applying their design skills in their research into the issues and possible approaches resulted in a variety of prototypes to convey their learning about their chosen species. Themes of communication and storytelling resonated through the projects. Examples are:

  • A shelf that clips onto a window, as a landing deck for birds
  • A podcast series featuring classmates' beings
  • A survey of mushroom foragers
  • A set of tiles about the different sounds of a stream
  • Swimming, or running barefoot, as a form of engagement

Caro and Louise say that the qualities of attention and listening permeated all projects, either directly or indirectly, and all led to a change of relationship between the designers and other beings.