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Emerging Principles of Somatic Design

A version of these principles was published in "'Somatic Design': Engaging the Body for Climate Healing" written by Em Wright in Touchpoint: Journal of Service Design 12(3): October 2021. Access the full article here.

01

Design is practiced within systems.

Design is contextualized and affected by institutions, culture, history, oppression, power and trauma. Design has its own history of harm, as well as lineages of healing and transformation. Equity-centered design, design justice and liberatory design are three areas of advancements in the field that ‘somatic design’ methods can learn from and build alongside. Somatics, body-centered methodology for transformation, acknowledges the past, present and future with respect to social and systemic forces. This context can transform body-based practices used by some designers (e.g. bodystorming, improvisation) into tools for systems change, and can mitigate the risk of avoiding politicized work that is common in Western and White ‘mind-body’ spaces.

02

Design ecosystems include the soma.

Soma is a Greek root meaning the integrated mind, body, and spirit in its wholeness. Alongside users and other stakeholders, the soma, also referred to as "body," is an integral part of the design ecosystem. System maps, service blueprints and journey maps can dedicate space for the somatic experience of different stakeholders, building upon the emotions, relationships and power dynamics sometimes captured in these tools.

03

The soma is a source information.

Physical sensations and emotions offer information about peoples’ needs, desires and boundaries, which may not otherwise emerge outside of embodied practice. For instance, we might ask: what does a relationship feel like in the body? Does it evoke grounding or fear? How do embodied experiences differ across racial, ethnic, gender and other identities, given the impacts of oppression on individuals? Somatic design considers embodied knowledge essential to the design process.

04

Design shapes the soma.

Like icebergs shaped by water and air, each person’s soma is shaped by many forces across time and space, including ancestry, culture, environment, and systemic conditions. These forces impact worldviews, values, and ways of being. Designs shape the soma as well. They come with norms, expectations, and value systems, which affect the soma of people in the design ecosystem, whether or not it is acknowledged. These effects are also mediated by how a person’s soma has been shaped by other forces and experiences, resulting in different experiences of the same design across identities.

05

The soma is a site of change.

Fractal patterns in nature demonstrate adrienne maree brown’s point: “what we practice at the small scale sets patterns for the whole system.” Somatic design considers the soma a location in the design ecosystem where action occurs. If engaged responsibly and for the sake of individual and collective healing, design can cultivate embodied change toward systems change.

 
 

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