Metaphysics of Design or Designing Metaphysics?
I am a (queer) designer and web application developer in Vancouver, Canada. For almost a decade, I have worked in design-related disciplines at an array of scales—from printed matter to high-rise buildings—with a miscellany of material and virtual media. My clients include contemporary artists, designers, and arts-centered institutions. As a designer, I am also a translator: to make an intention comprehensible, I encode, decode, and “do” data and sensory cues. My work is animated by the material histories of “things” (a matchbox has been pigment, glue, red phosphorus, a forest) and the ideas, feelings, and “doings” that things provoke (a matchbox feels warm, means “safety,” requires global networks of trade, can spark violence). Making is a practice of shaping matter and meaning; design makes values material. Recently, I have landed on the discipline of theology as an exuberant and dangerous “home” from which to ask two questions of design: “who makes?” or what agency is “in” design (that of gods, humans, fungi, quarks?) and “is there a design, overall?” —which is a question of determination contra self-determination. I am a graduate student at Vancouver School of Theology, in the Indigenous and Interreligious Studies (IIS) program. My curriculum vitae is heterogenous, colourful; I am always interested in collaborative digital/theoretical work and I welcome correspondence.
The practice of design is as much a project of knowledge production as it is a material labour and, accordingly, the politics of design are twofold: the media of design (pulp, ink, microchips, or rare earth metals) arrive at a cost and the meanings they trigger are open to divergent or conflicting interpretations. A website, for example, is never just lines of code, it sits precariously on a power grid, in a server farm, on economies of scale, on the backs of ditch-diggers and bleary-eyed support technicians. A website is the folding-together of needs, desires, possibilities, programming languages, and human and “natural” resources. One might wonder, “just who (or what) is doing the design, here?” Philosopher of design, Anne-Marie Willis, proposes design as a subject-decentred practice in which “things as well as people design.”
Central to my theological, philosophical, and political project are questions of doing or agency (“what or who can do and how?”) and determination (“what can or cannot be done?” and “are there origins, causes, purposes, endings?”). I contend that any appeal to “design from the outside” (theology, transcendence) or “design from the inside” (natural selection; genetic, social, or technological determinism; reductive physicalism) is a sleight of hand, a trick of conjuring power. To fix the location of design is to lay partial claim to the agency, the material and affective power, of anything and everything not-human or, worse, not-divine; to fix the location of design is to halt a possible future. As a subject-decentred practice, design is a politics of the possible. Taking up design as the production of knowledges and material practices (scientific, religious, and Indigenous), my writing aims to open up futures to creative redescription by imagining theology, too, as a politics of the possible.
 Anne-Marie Willis, “Ontological Designing: Laying the Ground,” Design Philosophy Papers: Collection Three, ed. Anne-Marie Willis, (Crows Nest, Qld.: Team D/E/S Publications, 2007), 81.