November 02, 2010
Humour as an intangible resource in design for local development

[...] that took place in Gabrovo, Bulgaria, from 21th to 27th of August of 2010.

hum…! human humour from humble humus

Some authors [1] suggest that the words "humour", "human", and "humility" share the same Indo-European root, ghôm- ("humus"), related to fluid and earth. In ancient and medieval physiology, humour was considered as "any of the four body fluids" (blood, phlegm, choler and melancholy or black bile) whose relative proportions were thought to determine state of mind (good humour). In conclusion; good humour was linked to good health. So, etymology gives us the main clues for our first conceptual approach in this workshop. In other words, the challenge is about how to (re-) connect humour (health, laugh, being-well, balanced) with human (society, culture, values), humility (bottom-up perspective, modesty [2]) and humus (territory, process, life cycle thinking) as a projectual principle in Design for Local Development.

Designing from vertex to vortex, from "the thing" to "The Thing"

In line with emergent transdisciplinary perspectives to embrace complex flows of resources (materials, energy, information, knowledge, people…), Design is evolving from a traditional form configuration approach (vertex) towards a systemic innovation catalyser (vortex). It can be considered as a sort of useful meta-discipline to ongoing processes in search of emergent paradigms for wellbeing, such as sustainability. Thus, design process for local development can be properly defined as a strategic activity referring to different disciplinary levels (services, communications and products) to promote systemic innovation processes (environmental, social, economic, technological) starting from the territorial resources. Somehow, what pretended here is a conscious, etymological recovering for the "the thing’s" original meaning; The Thing was the governing assembly in ancient Germanic societies made up of the free people of the community meeting in a place called a "thingstead" (it could perfectly be this Summer School). In English, this term is attested as "assembly" around year 685, and the meaning of personal possessions as "objects", "articles", or "valuables" first appears in 1300 [3]. So, the departure point for us, constituted as a "learning community" is to co-design ideas, proposals and desirable future scenarios in a collaborative way. Design understood as a socio-material assembly, as a walk, both physical and mental.

Working hypothesis: humour as an intangible local resource

Humour is an intangible cultural heritage. It can be exchanged for free, consuming no material resources nor generating waste and acting as a wellbeing catalyser. The citizens of Gabrovo are notorious for their unique sense of humour. Regarded to be both good at moneysaving and bargaining, due to historical crisis, they’ve learnt how to get something out of nothing with humour, a profitable lesson to deal with emergent paradigms. Nowadays, the city is currently known as an international capital of humour and satire reinforced by cultural institutions such as the "House of Humor and Satire" ( for whom "the world lasts because it laughs". In this sense, our working hypothesis along the workshop will be that of considering humour as a local resource for local development in multiple dimensions, but more specifically in these two:
  • Social, intangible: Ezio Manzini argues that today, under the emergent paradigm of Sustainability, it’s necessary to generate new meanings for "being-well". In his words, it is possible to achieve new standards of the so called "wellbeing, through "less consumption of resources", and "more sociability": +Wellbeing = - Resources + Sociability. Adapting this equation to our practical aims, Humour is a valuable good, one of the clearest examples of how to achieve wellbeing consuming less resources and sociability. Along the Campus, mental, emotional and social mechanisms for humour will be explored, digging out in its potential to change behaviour and concerns, which will be translated into dynamics, performances and other living activities.
    • Material, tangible: (Design as the process to get an artefact): Derived from the social one, the challenges here will try to give an answer to: How to design souvenirs (as a way to synthesize territorial values) based on humour under sustainability parameters (social, environmental, economic and institutional). For instance: Could we design a souvenir that encompasses environmental criteria (ecodesign means to take into account the whole life cycle: with local and safe raw materials, clean production, efficient distribution, proper use, and adequate scenarios at the end of life, accomplishing ISO 14.066 standards…), social criteria (working with social economy SMEs, integrating disabled, not discriminating people, designing for all, permitting, customization to users needs, avoiding frivolity, and transmitting values…), economic criteria (conceived and/or produced locally, with regional providers, generating qualified jobs, avoiding monopolies, distributing sectors of occupation…) institutional criteria (promoting sustainable purchase from public institutions as responsible for the 20% of the European GNP, promoting strategic plans in this area…).

    Expected goals and outcomes:

    Educative goals:
    1. To be introduced through theory and practice to "Design for Local Development", developing abilities to seek the hidden potential in endogenous resources.
    2. Ecodesign: To be able to measure and evaluate basic environmental, social and economic impacts for products, services and processes.
    3. To develop basic communitarian "mapping and visualization" abilities.
    4. To be used under a "learning community" dynamics approach.
    5. To laugh. Laughing and humour understood as a tool, a media and a goal by itself.
    Expected outcomes:
    1. Conceptual and practical support towards a strategic plan in local dynamization through humour.
    2. Some big size communitarian flow maps exploring local resources, product-system approach, and Life Cycle Analysis (LCE). It can be drawn and coloured on papers or, depending on the place conditions, people backgrounds, etc. performed as choreography, displayed in the space or others.
    3. Some quickly prototypes, objectual and performance examples gleaned from the walk.
    4. Photographic and videographic recording of the process, used techniques such us derive, transect participant observation, in-depth interviews, etc.
    5. A blog from the workshop in which all the consulting documents will be ready to be downloaded prior to the Summer School and where the generated work can be uploaded afterwards.
    Carlos Jiménez Martínez Director del Departamento de Producteo e Interiorismo Escuela Superior de Diseño, ESDi