“Where there is no hope, it is incumbent on us to invent it.”
― Albert Camus
Hopelessness has become quite fashionable, I’m afraid. People who act as if they are excited about the way things are going are not merely uncool. It’s worse than that: they’re naive. As the slogan goes, if you aren’t angry, you aren’t paying attention. A generally hopeful disposition, then, becomes a sign of willful ignorance—or, at the very least, of having the wrong priorities. And so we resign our own hopes to a box in the attic with other juvenilia—the stuff of childhood.
To hope, it seems, is unserious.
Among many other things, what I find most lovely about this work by my friend and colleague is that it is unapologetic in this regard. You will not find a cynical phrase in its entirety. I would describe the writing as guileless, which some thesauruses—I was surprised to learn—list as a synonym for naive. I would like to take a moment to trouble that assertion.
Having known and worked alongside Jeremy Cherry for many years, I can attest that his thinking on these things is not rooted in a lack of knowledge. Rather, I believe he writes from within the sort of insight that can render conventional knowledge just that: conventional. His is not a life free from adversity. His own design practice is not easy or flippant. Moreover, he does not consider these ideas lightly. This is the writing of a designer making his way through a vocation that is quicksand for many. The hope he describes is allusive, yes, but it may also be the only solid ground.
I suppose I’m saying that the author comes to his subject with admirable seriousness, and we would do well to take him seriously, however unfashionable that may seem.
Many of us have been trained to think and speak about hope as if it were a genetic trait: either you have it, or you don’t. Still others believe hope is stylistic; the outward trappings of an optimist. Here, Jeremy is proclaiming that hope is something we can—and must—do.
Not because we are unafraid, or selfless, or little gods, but because the work of what he might call hopeful design must be accountable to a future we hold in common. And a significant aspect of the work of a designer is increasing our fidelity to that shared aim. This is the work of imagination and persuasion. And in my time with the author, it has been a great privilege to see him—on projects large and small—take up these two pursuits in what I can only term the discipline of hope. It’s something he conjures that I find simultaneously professional and radical. I see this discipline unfolding in three steps.
Situate yourself in the future.
Do a little time traveling as you enter into any design process. If we approach our work from where we wish to go, we have a much better view of how to get there. This kind of vision requires careful tending or it quickly grows stale. Jeremy lives out of this preferred reality and relishes the toil of its continuing renewal.
Imagine the conditions of flourishing.
Get outside yourself. Seek out the weakest creatures and systems and place them at the center of your work. What would it take for them to be whole? Does this project, no matter how small, afford the possibility of change in that direction?
Choose the prerequisites for those conditions.
Sounds simple enough, but I actually suspect this is the radical part. It is so much easier to describe flourishing than it is to make the decisions that foster it. We must become the holy fools of innovation. So often, hope is hiding in plain sight just waiting for someone to point it out.
We are designing the future we will inhabit, and it is in no way fixed. We must become hopeful enough to choose a better way. Adopting this approach is no guarantee of good outcomes, but I view it as the precondition for Jeremy’s assurance that this better way is even possible. His approach might be the first three steps toward some inner alchemy that transforms hope from a noun into a verb. From that quiet thing collecting dust in the attic to the absurd and beautiful shape of our preferred future.
If you’re able, I would encourage you to read this book the same way it was written: with plenty of room to breathe. Sit down and read a chapter and then stop. Let the ideas ride with you for a while. Try not to overanalyze it. Then, come back and read the next chapter. You’ll find that the ideas themselves spiral out from the ones that came before. Echoing and revisiting. It is not a treatise so much as a lyric, and like all things that are true, it will convince you if you let it.
Hope is a bird with a sprig of something green when you’ve been at sea for forty days. But it is also a forbidden bar mitzvah in a concentration camp. It is a wedding proposal in a cancer ward. Mandela, who knew a thing or two about suffering, said this: “May your choices reflect your hopes and not your fears.” I believe this book, for Jeremy and those of us working alongside him, is just such a reflection, however silly it may sound, and whatever the data might say. However dark a given night, may this book remind us that we always have just enough light for Designing Hope.