I keep thinking about the word, “reset.”

In the context of what I do everyday and my new normal – working on and from my laptop at home – I often need to reset. The sheer volume of emails, open applications, Zoom calls and big design files have caused my machine, on occasion, to act up. Most of the time, a reset is all it needs. Problems solved.

In-between computer issues and work, I read. Quarantining has created the time to take in more content. We have all read and observed “nature is resetting around us.” Clear skies in Los Angeles, Mumbai, Beijing, etc. All experiencing less pollution, influenced by the lockdown (Source, The New York Times). Nature is healing!

In the grand scheme of life on this planet, a few weeks or months of us not driving isn’t resetting anything. Because to reset means to set to zero, or to set differently, only to be turned on again. That did not happen.

Nature simply took a breath.

Probably the cleanest, purest breath in eons, but it was one breath. And now humans have rushed to resume old habits, anxious to ‘turn everything back on’ again.

For the first time in our lives, everyone around the world has experienced the same event at roughly the exact same time. Is it possible that isolation has inadvertently helped us be more aware of our collective consciousness and thus, more connected to each other? As humans, we tend to dislike change because it threatens our natural habit patterns (Source: Entrepreneur), but we are finally being forced to stay home (for a short while) and be aware. Together.

So, perhaps nature has reset us. But are we paying attention?

With typical everyday distractions removed and daily routines put on hold, we’re forced to sit and feel and to be more aware of our limited interactions and surroundings. Subsequently, with many businesses and entertainment restricted, one of the few things we can actually do is get into the great outdoors – to mobilize, to help balance technology fatigue and self-confinement.

To think we might have reset nature is everyone’s hope. After all, that’d be easy— if problems solved themselves. However, nature has all the power. It’s not the other way around.

Humankind has gone in cycles, recognizing occasionally that we are a part of nature, but then falling back into the belief that we are separate. It’s largely been a product of religions, of survival, of world view, and of technological innovation. Prior to the 19th century, nature was not only a human necessity, but respected and appreciated for its plenty. Without it, humans would not have access to primal resources like trees for protection and refuge, rivers to wash and drink from, the sun and land to grow food. Wouldn’t this disconnection we have with nature heal if we recognize we are one and the same?

Take monoculture farming, for instance, a modern and popular approach in industrialized regions where farmers attend to a single crop. This disruptive system of farming ultimately results in widespread crop failure because naturally occurring crops don’t grow in isolation, as this would leave them vulnerable and drain the soil of its nutrients more quickly. In contrast, permaculture farming is an ancient practice that encourages biodiversity — just as it grows without humans intervening. The strategy is based on planting a variety of crops all working together to flourish the land and maintain a healthy ecosystem (Source: Challenge Advisory).

Nature will always do what it does best, continue evolving to protect. But, humans working against nature simply is not working.

We often talk in the design world about disrupting; about shifting the paradigm and breaking through. What if shifting the paradigm is actually embracing the paradigm? Is the new disruption, designing in concert with Nature?

Our approach to sustainable design embraces a spectrum of possibilities, illustrating a gradient of solutions and acknowledging there is no silver bullet solution for one problem. We draw parallels with the perfect system of nature. All living things, our plants and animals, are born, live, die and return safely to the earth – degradable solutions or obsolescence. While at the other end of the spectrum, things that outlast all life – like mountains, that provide harbor and fresh water to nearby populations – are durable and life-sustaining.

What if we started a new era of regenerative design; a process by which we don’t design in isolation— in isolation of processes, materials, lifecycle and most importantly in isolation of nature at large? Where we embrace a diversity of solutions and of possibilities and of our own species. We can expand our selection of materials, encouraging diversity in supply chain and source, making sure we’re not depleting any one resource. We can explore the best way to bring things to life, by designing to the best, most efficient manufacturing process. More consortiums, knowledge-shares, open-source efforts— ensuring the future of design is multi-disciplinary, and that it does not remain a monoculture.

Every generation has a defining moment, this is ours. We have been forced to take the ultimate pause and now we need to look at how we reset and reimagine the way we design for our future lives.