Design Animism: Possible approaches


At a general level, the research question is as follows

“How can new materialism help design to reinstigate our relationship with the material world, helping us avoid the fallacies of modern design’s contribution to consumerism, ecological and social damage?”

In the following I’d like to ruminate quickly on possible approaches on introducing aspects of animism or new materialism into design.


An important part of animistic practice is the ritualisation of material practices. Hari-Kuyō1, the festival for broken needles, acknowledges the work of needle-workers and is a moment in which these can show respect for their tools.

Animistic design could take the ritualisation of care and maintenance into account, beyond an imminent use value. Hari-Kuyō shows that people can ritualise their bonds to tools, as is otherwise only known in rituals for social bonds. The aspect of deeply respecting or honoring a thing for its role in a common lived reality could be put forward in rituals surrounding the maintenance of everyday object, like kitchen knives.

Commoning of design and production processes

New materialism’s usage of agency isn’t clearly defined2. Roughly said, agency means the ontological acceptance of a thing as well as its effect on the world, simply because of it’s relationality and complexity of being. A simple way of losing the relation to things, or the understanding of the complexity of a thing, is to be completely removed from the design and production process. As long as things are produced outside of my bubble, it’s much easier for me to experience them as expendables. The impact of such can be seen in the waste of electronic devices.

An approach for a circumvention of this problem could be the commoning of certain processes - design, production, maintenance. The act of buying consumer goods releases the buyer from the responsibility of these processes, at least that is what commodity convenience advertises. Commoning can be described as a shared responsibility towards a commodity, its usage and care. A commoning of certain processes would mean to include the users or a product in design, production or maintenance of said product or even let them participate. The user is put into relation with the product from the beginning or at important stages in the material process of the product and knows about the involved complexities of energy and material expenditures.

Psychological aspects

The psychological values of objects are well researched3 but not well known by designers. This knowledge of the psychological aspects of things or the material in general, should be taken into consideration by designers. How can products be designed to expand the products value by psychological dimensions? A product design with that in mind, is not only of use, socio-cultural or symbolic value but also a thing with which the user can form a strong bond.

This approach needs to be expanded, as soon as I have gained some more knowledge in this field.

Speculation: All things have rights

What if all the things would have the same rights as human people, would?