We’re living in a liminal time. As anyone familiar with that most numinous of concepts introduced by Arnold VanGennep and later refined by Victor Turner knows, time, when liminalized, is neither now nor then, here nor there. That’s exciting because, in the spirit of Turner, it suggests we’re living in a time that is potentially hugely transformative. Welcome to the betwixt-and-between!

No longer one to get 100% caught up in the frenzy of the moment, I’ll be the first anti-pundit to say that other times have been transformative. But the current and emerging intersections between Web 2.0, Design 3.0 and the social, political, environmental, corporate, consumer and other worlds they’re out to tweak are changing the game in a way that could make vinyl records, film and TV appear as blips on the cultural radar screen.

If you followed Idris Mootee’s Advanced Branding Master Class held this past summer via his blog, you’ll know I’m down with the idea (and practice) of co-design and transformation. In response to one of Idris’ questions concerning the future of ‘brand’, I suggested brand(s) could/should enter a performative phase.
Brand as performance, I wrote, would

– be a celebration of cultures and meanings made as much (if not more) by consumers as by boardrooms

– be more collaborative, more about opening participatory folds of design, packaging, retail, advertising, marketing etc within and between (how consumers actually consume) brands

– generate symbolic, ritual power through play and display by providing a stage for social dramas: scenes, parties or spontaneous mobs that – on streets or online – forge greater alliances, extend word-of-mouth through the tribe, make meaning through co-participation and can be fun

– use that power to mobilize corporate and consumer communities for social transformation; above donations or sponsorships, beyond Just Do It and Be All That You Can Be and with accountability becoming more central to success than authenticity, take a leadership role in championing causes and affecting them.

I know many in the design/web world share a similar thrill for what’s just over the precipice, especially all you corporate ethnographer’s trapped in the anti-liminal zone of ‘actionability’. So, just in case you missed some recently posted guides to help you on your way towards transformation (can we add transcendence to that?), a few candles lighting the way….

The 10th anniversary conference on Participatory Design: Experiences and Challenges takes place from September 30 to October 4 in Bloomington, Indiana. This meeting of minds – known as Participatory Design (add PDs to your EAs, IAs, BDs, PhDs, CEOs and such) – represents “a diverse collection of principles and practices aimed at making technologies, tools, environments, businesses, and social institutions more responsive to human needs. A central tenet of PD is the direct involvement of people in the co-design of things and technologies they use.” Check their site for info about key speakers Natalie Jeremijenko and Finn Kensing, get your bosses to pay for the trip, and consider their core questions before hopping on the plane: What are the important trends, phenomena, developments, and views on participation and design etc., which in so many different ways challenge our traditions, our experiences and/or the current ‘wisdom’ within the field?

And then there’s NextDesign, the folks behind exciting projects, including a new GoogleGroup called Transforming Transformation. Co-founder GK VanPatter recently posted a lengthy discussion there in which he wrote, “As part of Design 3.0 we are no longer just interested in understanding users (outbound awareness). We are also interested in understanding the project team and even the client team (inbound awareness) as part of the transformation equation.” Wow! As part of their transformation equation, NextDesign is currently seeking non-profit organizations who have complex organizational challenges and seek FREE confidential strategic innovation help” from their Complexity Navigation students. Check out their site to learn more.