Open Source Tools and Workshops by Prof. Peter Friedrich Stephan

Beyond Corona crisis

April 3, 2020

Prof. Peter Friedrich Stephan Academy of Media Arts, Cologne Germany
Raz Godelnik Parsons School of Design, New York City, USA

Corona Redesign – A Pre-Manifesto

Spaceship Earth is Shaking
Spaceship Earth as Bucky Fuller calls our planet has been traveling in recent months into the “unknown unknowns” territory, making fun of any assumptions, plans, strategies and intentions we had prior to the coronavirus pandemic. Having so many people around the world shaken by a virus they probably never heard about until a month or two ago is a good reminder that we still don’t have the instruction manual for this spaceship. It is also a reminder that we need to be humble about the assumptions we have on how the world operates because this spaceship is still very much a terra cognita. This thought is both exciting and frightening at the same time.

Coronavirus = The Grand Designer
The coronavirus may seem on the surface like another episode of “Black Mirror”, where we can hope for a good ending that will enable us to go back to our normal life. At the same time designers may also consider the design capabilities of coronavirus, reshaping behaviors and mental models, economies and societies at unprecedented speed and scale. Quietly but fiercely it seems to be triggering almost every leverage point Donella Meadows had in mind, from parameters and numbers all the way to system goals and paradigms. No designer, as gifted as she or he may be, has ever had such an impact and we’re doubtful if anyone will in the future. So what does it mean when an invisible virus easily defeats any human design attempt to make a change in the world? What lessons can we learn from the work of the master designer, also known as COVID-19?

What climate crisis?
While we live in an era that will most likely be shaped by the climate crisis, right now the focus is on coronavirus, which has turned the world into a very different place in a very short time. Climate change, however, is not sitting down and waiting patiently until we’re done dealing with the coronavirus. It continues to be an existential threat to humanity, even if short-term decrease in activity may slow it down. In a way, it is accompanying the coronavirus like a shadow, challenging us to consider it at every step of the way. The challenge is not only to remind ourselves that the climate crisis is here while dealing with another emergency, but also to learn the lessons from the coronavirus pandemic and figure out how to apply them to the fight against climate change.

Where are the designers? (Part I)
While coronavirus is still an ongoing challenge, we believe the question of the value of design is critical enough to be considered now rather than wait until coronavirus is no longer a threat. While you see policymakers, politicians, healthcare professionals, economists, businesspeople, and even technocrats with relevant experience at the forefront of the efforts to fight the pandemic the voice of designers is quieter than ever (with some exceptions). Just like with climate change, designers do not seem to be part of the conversations on what direction we should go to. This is a critical moment where the fabric of life everywhere is challenged in the most dramatic ways we have seen in decades, and designers don’t have anything to say about it? We doubt it. We believe this is a moment where designers can be extremely valuable, and yet they don’t have a seat around the table. This is troubling and requires designers to reflect on the real value of design and whether it is as significant as we tell ourselves.

Lessons from Corona: What can designers learn?
Since the outbreak of the corona crisis we have witnessed the biggest disruptive systems-level change since WWII. All of this is very frightening at the moment and no one knows what will happen next. As we try to cope with this we may ask ourselves what the crisis can teach us as designers.

The power of design and systems-level change
Designers in new and emergent fields seem to be convinced that they can change the world: Some approaches of social innovation designers sound as if they want to put the whole world in a repair café. Some designers for digital transformation seem to believe that a system update is all it takes to make the world better. Design activists believe in participation and tell us that everybody is a designer that can make little differences that eventually will contribute to big changes.
All this is great and valuable work, but will this be sufficient to accomplish systems-level changes that we have to reach fast when it comes to climate change, migration, social, ecologic and demographic issues?
Most of us will agree that design has a lot of power to shape the lives of people and the future of the planet. However, this power of design is not necessarily the power of designers. Design sits on top of technological and economic power. Without them design can’t do much.

Where are the designers? (Part II)
Designers don’t have superpowers. They can only hope to contribute a tiny extra as catalysts that will make the expertise of others work better. Lately we listen to medical doctors, politicians and economists. But not designers. Designers don’t have a seat at the table of decisionmakers and maybe they are better off as consultants in the background. But if designers manage to have the ear of the leaders: What do they have to say?
Chances are designers will come up with ideas of how to communicate better in home offices and home schooling, organize help for neighbors, stay in shape while in quarantine or do smarter shopping. All of this might be helpful. But it is not a system-level change. Where are the designers specializing in social innovation and futuring, strategic design and design fiction, transition and transformation design? Did they develop plans for how to cope with global emergencies? Did they conceive alternative health systems on a global scale?
One example of this kind of anticipating design is how pre-earthquake architecture studies earthquakes as a foundation to design new buildings and infrastructure that will resist earthquakes and will help to limit devastation. Obviously, it took a lot of earthquakes before these projects got started. As we witnessed outbreaks like Ebola, SARS and now the coronavirus we have to ask: can we use these experiences to learn and to conceive pre-pandemic alternatives? Will designers have to specialize in Emergeny Design?

Permanent crises
Helping to fight a crisis is one thing. Preventing a crisis is another. But this is only true from the privileged perspective of most western designers as the majority of the global population lives in permanent crisis. And this is not because of a lack of design, but because it is designed to be that way (see Mike Monteiro). Most designers in the western world help to perpetuate constant crises.

Decolonize Design
The modernist framework of values and methods and its narrative of progress are a success story. But not for everyone, the movement for the decolonization of design reminds us. The modernist success story comes to an end because it can’t be applied on a global scale. As a part of that vanishing story design will have to find a new narrative. The challenge is to “stay with the trouble” (Donna Haraway). No more purity in white cube showrooms and business as usual.

Systems-level change for design
Most models of design stack activity levels from graphics and product, via interaction and service to process and system. Thus systems-level change appears as the most comprehensive dimension. But is it really true that our expertise in traditional design fields will add up magically to a set of competences that allows us to address systems-level change?
We think the contrary is true: If we designers want to be actors on the systems-level, we need a systems-level change for design in the first place. As a consequence, instead of aiming for higher goals we have to rigorously analyze our basic assumptions. What is our understanding of an object, of politics, of economy, of intervention? How to connect values and facts?

The bad and the good news
The bad news is that while we fight the coronavirus the other crises like climate change do not wait. The good news is that we witness disruptive and profound changes becoming possible overnight. Most of us accept the explanations of experts and the radical actions taken when they can see their personal benefit. With the Corona crisis there might be a chance for a reset of values that links the personal benefits closer to the health of a global community and a healthy planet.
Will designers rise to the occasion and reset their foundations so they can become catalysts for systems-level change?

What now? Let’s continue the conversation at Beyond Crisis online conference!
We consider this pre-manifesto as an invitation for a broader discussion on design/ers response to global crises and the role and value of design overall at this day and age. We plan to have a workshop at Beyond Crisis, an online conference organized by the MA program in Eco-Social Design at the Free University of Bozen–Bolzano, Italy. It will take place on 17-18 April 2020.
Entitled “Will the Real Transformational Designer Please Stand Up?“ the workshop will explore if and how designers can be a meaningful force for good, focusing the role designers may have in ‘nourishing positive transformations and preventing the dystopian developments’.
We will challenge the participants (and ourselves!) with the assumption that the current design knowledge is not sufficient to ignite transformation on the existing design levels (meta materials, products/graphics, interaction/dialogue, organization/system). Is it true? Do we need to consider changing our understanding and framing of design, where we need to accept that the majority of designers are merely change-driven (aka technicians who follow briefs), and only a small group is dedicated to change making? If so, what should be the training for this ”Design Special Forces Unit” and where should it operate?


Designing Transformation

…present a series of open source tools based on our experience in transformation design projects
… support communities working with these tools and developing them according to their needs
…offer workshops for groups and organizations that want to design transformations.

Concept and text: Prof. Peter Friedrich Stephan, designer, consultant and eductor in Berlin,
professor for Transformation Design at Academy of Media Arts in Cologne, Germany.
Graphic design of diagrams: Enno Hyttrek.

Transformation is a process needed in communities, companies and society
Transformation is a chance and challenge for design

The Chance
Get more impact: Innovation and interventions need to be designed to contribute to positive change.

The Challenge
Transformation needs to coordinate diverse groups of stakeholders.
We need to develop new tools as a common ground and »trading zone of knowledge« (Galison).

Transformation Design

Transformation Design
… facilitates and moderates transformation processes
… anticipates future qualities and projects backwards to give orientation and direction
… initiates or cooperates in system-level change

The transformations of societies are driven by the megatrends of
– technological innovation leading to disruptive changes in culture and business models
– globalization leading to an ever more dynamic exchange of ideas, people, work and goods
– migration with new tasks of coexisting and integrating a diversity of cultures
– demographic change and the global difference in birthrates

Transformation does not wait for designers
Transformations are subject to the inherent dynamics of capitalism, technology and media. Designers however play a vital role in shaping, propagating and distributing new values and models of future lifestyle. In Transformation many competence fields work together and also against each other. What can design contribute that other disciplines can not? Designers have to prepare to cooperate with politicians and social scientists, economists, lawyers, and psychologists. Designers can be facilitators and moderators in this context, but also claim a distinct and original contribution in concept, aesthetics and functions of man – artefact – man relationships.

Transformation Design (TD) faces challenging tasks and questions that include:
– How can designers contribute to the transformations of society and organizations?
– How can TD create and advertise new values for a future civilization?
– Can TD build on the concept of „matters of concern“ (Bruno Latour)?
– What are the differences between TD and Design Thinking or Change Management?
– How can TD be established as an academic field?

Transformation and Change
Change is conceived as being pushed by the past, whereas transformation is conceived as being pulled by the future. Change takes its values and orientation from categories of the past, whereas transformation sets a cause in the future. Transformation includes an orientation to values (individual, organization, society), respect for the concerns of stakeholders (non-normative), insights into the dynamics of technological development and the importance of details.

How to become a transformation designer?
Transformation Design (TD) is an emergent field. Academic programs start to integrate it into the design curricula. The programs have subtle differences and come under names such as »Transition Design« (Carnegie Mellon University) or »Design for social innovation« (School of Visual Arts, New York).
However, it is not the formal qualification that makes the difference, but the personal experience. You become a transformation designer by doing projects in Transformation Design, according to the ConcernCanvas: Reframe your professional mind to TD.

How to get a job as a transformation designer?
You can´t expect being commissioned with a TD project from the start as we work  in an emergent field. But you might start with a traditional design project and eventually persuade partners to adopt a TD framework. The CC will help you doing so. TD emerges from new dynamics which are more bottom up than top down. You will have to be ready for self-employment, entrepreneurial thinking, and can do attitude. Your tasks will be: find a topic, develop a critical mass, search for partners, invent new models and build your own job.

The ConcernCanvas

The Concern Canvas

… is a tool for transformation design
… is a diagram that helps to analyze complex socio-psychological dynamics
… makes you understand what drives stakeholder‘s minds and actions
… helps to find the best starting points for intervention, innovation and design
… builds a common ground for teams of designers and non-designers
… creates a »trading zone of knowledge«
… is based on experience from projects in transformation design

Download as pdf

How does the ConcernCanvas work?

The ConcernCanvas is centred around events and frames and organizes their context.
It fills the gaps between values and facts, concerns and issues. These categories are conceived as:

Everything you believe in (knowingly or not): god, love, happiness, health, trust, security…
Values are influenced by family, neighborhood and culture as well a personal growth.

Concerns are values in action. They drive people´s minds, preferences and decisions. The value health might drive different concerns for different stakeholders: Having access to clean water, being able to pay for healthcare or simply not eating too much. Concerns are not normative. They do not follow a hierarchy like Maslow’s pyramid of needs. People´s minds are specific sets of concerns of different scale: A loss of the local soccer team might be more important than a distant war.

Interactions in daily life and the way you interpret them. The same situation will be experienced differently by different persons. Frames are influenced by concerns and issues.

Topics you deal with on a daily basis, most of them influenced by media. Priorities may be on personal life, family and work, but the impact of media might also construct more abstract issues.

Facts are the material conditions of life: billions of artifacts, some of them might be helpful and neccessary, others are obstacles, superflus and junk.


10 Questions and Answers

1 What is it?
The ConcernCanvas (CC) is a tool for Transformation Design. It can help to identify crucial issues and find the best starting points for intervention, innovation and design.

2 How does it work?
The transformation of complex socio-technical systems brings together teams from diverse backgrounds. The CC is a tool to find out what drives people´s minds and behaviour. It helps to build a common ground for teams and organize trading zones of knowledge. Thus a shared understanding of the stakeholders mindsets emerges and agreements on the process for intervention, innovation and design can be created.

3 Where does it come from?
The CC is based on empirical data from Transformation Design projects and reflects experiences from the design process.

4 How to use it?
For each category the CC asks a question, e.g. What concerns determine the stakeholders behaviour? Try to answer the question by observation, interviews or speculation.

5 Is it just another design thinking tool?
The CC takes Design Thinking to the next level as it is more comprehensive and helps to find hidden agendas.

6 Is it a substitute for other methods?
The CC is a framework for other methods like cultural probes, personas and customer journeys.

7 Where can I get it?
The CC can be downloaded together with helpful casestudies that will be added continuously.

8 Is it free to use?
The use of the CC is free under the creative commons license.

9 Where can I get help for using the CC?
We offer introductions and workshops and there will be a growing community online that will be happy to exchange experience.

10 What’s next?
The CC is the first of a series of tools that we develop and  publish online. The method tool box will be in continous development by a community. We also work on a stack of method cards and welcome cooperation, please get in touch.

Cultural Formats

Cultural Formats

… bridge the gap between universal experiences and values/concerns
… link ethics and aesthetics
… is the comprehensice field Transformation Designers work in

Download as pdf

The Hypercycle of Transformation

The Hypercycle of Transformation

… models the dynamics of socio-technical systems
… gives a comprehensive view of interdependent aspects
… helps to find the best approach for design interventions


Download as pdf

The Five Stages of Design

Five Stages of Design

… sets design fields in relation
… raises questions for each stage

… expands to new design fields such as material design and transformation design

Download as pdf

The five stages:

5 Transformation
strategies and interventions for complex socio-technical environments

– Where will we go tomorrow?
– What are the driving forces of the »Next Society«?

4 Organization/System
– How does it work between us?
– Who/What is not integrated?

3 Interaction/Dialogue
– What does it mean?
– What is not communicated?

2 Products/Graphics
– How does it look?
– What is missing?

1 Meta-Materials
new smart and ecological materials

– Which Materials can we construct/grow?

This definition of stages is inspired by GK van Patter, Henk Oosterling and Richard Buchanan.
The  questions in italics are inspired by Dirk Baecker, the term »Next Society« was coined by Peter F. Drucker.

Two Frames of Scenography

A ‘matter of fact’ as a clear-cut entity but without context and therefore fictional,
only virtually possible, as in CAD-Systems.

The »matter of fact« with a scenography that makes it a »matter of concern«
with context, interaction, and meaning.

The ‘scenography’ is everything that addresses the audience and thus is subject
to debate.
It is produced by the »machinery of a theatre«, which remains intransparent.
(Illustrations: PFS)

For more information on »The two Frames of Scenography« see the context in my paper
Designing ‘matters of concern’ (Latour ): A future design task ?
in book: Wolfgang Jonas, Sarah Zerwas, Kristof von Anshelm (Eds.) 2015: Transformation Design – Perspectives on a New Design Attitude, Basel: Birkhäuser, Edition: BIRD – Board of International Researchers in Design

New Role of Designers

Traditional role of designers
The audience experiences and debates a scenography that is produced
by the assembly of producers hidden below. The designer is an invisible
part of this group together with engineers and marketing.

New role of designers
Designers make the assembly of producers transparent to the public
e.g. by using visualizations or leaking materials. Designer wear two hats:
They becomes visible as moderators and stay a part of the group of
producers at the same time.
(Illustrations: PFS)

For more information on »The new Role of Designers« see the context in my paper
Designing ‘matters of concern’ (Latour ): A future design task ?
in book: Wolfgang Jonas, Sarah Zerwas, Kristof von Anshelm (Eds.) 2015: Transformation Design – Perspectives on a New Design Attitude, Basel: Birkhäuser, Edition: BIRD – Board of International Researchers in Design


We build a community of Transformation Designers so share tools and insights.
You can join in a number of ways
– use the presented tools in your projects and share your experience
– become a co-developer for new tools or articulate wishes for new functions
– we started to work on a stack of method cards and welcome cooperation
– invite us to help in workshops
– subscribe to the newsletter

We will be happy to share our insights and help you getting started working with the tools
We will introduce you to the mindset that guides the development of the tools
In lectures and workshops you will experience how to use the tools
We would like to initiate and host communities of practise in Transformation Design.
If you want to use the tools in your projects, we will be happy to help you, please get in touch.


The  tools for Transformation Design were presented and used at
Restarting Development Aid Berlin/Germany
– Design Education for the 21st century, Beijing Institute of Fashion and Technology Beijing/China
– Development of a Corporate Mission Statement for DEG Invest Cologne, Gemany
– Parsons School of Design New York City/USA
– more projects are under way

Development of a Corporate Mission Statement
Project for DEG Invest Cologne, Gemany, 2017

Workshop Designing Transformation
at Central Academy of Fine Arts – CAFA, Beijing 2018


Workshop for »Restarting Development Aid«
Weizenbaum Institute Berlin/Germany, 2019

Introduction to the toolset for Designing Transformation
Parsons School of Design Strategies New York City/USA, 2019

Workshop »Design Education for the 21st century«

Beijing Institute of Fashion and Technology, Beijing/China, 2019






























Design Research
The presented tools are based on design research, empirical study and academic reflection in Transformation Design. The academic research is documented in papers by Prof. Peter Friedrich Stephan and published in international journals.

check out these papers
Designing ‘matters of concern’ (Latour ): A future design task ?
in book: Wolfgang Jonas, Sarah Zerwas, Kristof von Anshelm (Eds.) 2015: Transformation Design – Perspectives on a New Design Attitude, Basel: Birkhäuser, Edition: BIRD – Board of International Researchers in Design

You say you want a revolution? Non-normative foundations of Transformation Design
April 2017, Design Journal, The 20(sup1), S3630-S3642, Conference: Design for Next – European Academy of Design 12 at Sapienza University Rome

more papers available at Academia and Researchgate.

Inspiration and History
The notion of »concerns« is an inspiration from Bruno Latours work on Actor Network Theory. Additional insights comes from research in perception, creativity and behavioural economics (e.g. nudging). A concern based approach is not new to design. Parts of it have been used by designers earlier under different names such as radical design, participatory design and social design. Also Richard Buckminster Fuller´s Anticipatory Comprehensive Design Science can be considered to be an ancestor of a concern based approach. The presented diagrams however form a comprehensive toolset that can be used by designers and non-designers alike.


Here you find all the charts for a free download und der the creative commons license.
Enjoy using them and please share your experience, see contact and newsletter.

The ConcernCanvas

Download as pdf


The Hypercycle of Transformation

Download as pdf

Cultural Formats

Download as pdf


The Five Stages of Design

Download as pdf




Prof. Peter Friedrich Stephan

Academy of Media Arts
Peter Welter Platz 2
50676 Köln


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