Ripples of 10

At DesignBoost New York, hosted by the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, I met Professor Jamer Hunt, of Parsons’ Transdisciplinary Design Program. His presentation, using the frameworks of the Eames’ Powers of 10 video to contextualize the issues we face in terms of sustainability reinvigorated a line of thought I had been working on earlier this year relative to my thesis and provided a much better conceptual framework than my rather clumsy four-level taxonomy.

First, watch Powers of 10

Then read Prof. Hunt’s article in Fast Company (2010).

To realize a sustainable future, we need to work on all levels, from 100 to 107. Policy level (105 .. 107) directives work downward, affecting the way people do business, relate to the technology in their lives, and relate to each other. In order for those directives to have an impact, other than making people frustrated and angry, there needs to be an ability to act at lower levels (101 .. 104). The work that I’m doing on individual persuasion operates at the 10-2 to 103 scale—how can people be influenced in using the things they own, and how can the buying experience be shaped (for example, buying a more efficient, longer lasting appliance has a pronounced impact over its life).

A taxonomy of intervention levels

107        Planet-scale (the earth is just over 107 m3)

106        Trans-national Scale

105        National Scale

103 .. 104    City

102        Neighborhood

101         Purchasing Decisions (appliances)

100        Use of appliances

10-2 .. 10-1    individual user actions

Obviously these aren’t discrete categories, but guideposts on a continuum. The operative issue is that any sort of decision has to be evaluated in terms of its impact on multiple scales. A policy level (105) change, like Energy Star or Top Runner interfaces with 101 scale issues of buying consumer products, which in turn influences 102 scale issues of making and transporting products … and that influences higher level issues of energy delivery and the ripples keep expanding. Starting at the bottom, influencing actions, makes for ripple effects up to higher levels: reducing (or increasing) electrical loads via 10-2 or 10-1 scale interventions influence up to the 105 or 106 scale due to the size of the electrical grid: it’s a little switch which turns all the lights out.

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