02 August 2011

Living in the Liminal


Last week I had the opportunity to initiate a dialogue with a team of folks at the frog Seattle office. The topic I chose to focus on related to my last blog post and begged the question of how much failure is really allowed in a development-related design project.

During this conversation, I suggested that I find myself existing in a liminal space as a designer in this context:

Liminality (from the Latin word līmen, meaning "a threshold") refers to in-between situations and conditions that are characterized by the dislocation of established structures, the reversal of hierarchies, and uncertainty regarding the continuity of tradition and future outcomes.

A few folks in the room resonated with this and since returning home I'm asking myself, "What are the consequences of holding such a space?"

In reality, all designers find themselves here. Whether it be navigating a client relationship or a multidisciplinary project, we exist in a space that may find us dislocated from established structures or uncertain about future outcomes. While this may sound acceptable among our design comrades, I'm not always sure how it plays out with those who find less comfort in the liminal space.

So it begs a new question for me:

How do you navigate the liminal space?

This space between is a designer's raison d'être and yet it is often the space where many can find themselves stuck or misunderstood. In my talk, I raised four things that I feel I am try to navigate when working on projects with diverse teams. Each poses a question that I feel needs to be answered by all involved in order to allow for the project to be clearly defined and pursued (with some of us remaining in the liminal):

Posture: Why do we do what we do?
Process: How do we do what we do?
Patterns: What do we do or make?
Presence: Who do we do it with and how much face time is required to understand the liminal space?

I love the word liminal and would value hearing how others exist at this threshold of dislocation and uncertainty.


Lynn Kenneth Pecknold said...

I appreciate this liminality definition from the perspective as a visual artist. I regularly am found within this spectrum. Thanks.

MINSYN said...

The speculation of liminal space could be extended by asking is liminalilty does really exist? The general logic of liminality could only be verified by the existence of 2 sandwich'ing finite entities (A & B). We have to examine what are these 2 so called certain & independent structures that contain the liminal condition. Could each of them (A/B) be just another liminal entity by itself in the another stage of hierarchial transition that makes the original 'in-between' (white zone) a finite structure?

olivelife said...

I think your question is fair and merits more investigation. My thoughts were a way to identify my own attempt to navigate two (or more) thresholds that are not always familiar spaces. Liminality was a word that helped me to situate where I found myself.

But I think there is more to pursue as it relates to the finite nature of the in-between space. Great question!

Avi said...

Liminal spaces can be difficult to navigate emotionally yet abound with wellsprings of intense meaning. Incidentally "Bardo" means "In-Between".