Engaging the Design Web with Looby Macnamara (e60)

In this conversation, which follows on from the previous episode, explores Looby Macnamara’s design web. We dive into the topic of emergent design process, and in particular Looby’s design web approach to designing anything. I was pleasantly surprised to discover in my preparations for this chat that Looby is a co-traveller in the realm of design process innovation, earnestly striving via the design web to get free of traps such as:

  • Viewing design process as a linear sequence of steps
  • The logical fallacy of having “design” be one of the steps within the whole “design” process
  • Having observation as a step as if at some point you stop observing
  • Getting too prescriptive about the end state you are heading toward
  • Separating planning from action in ways that cripple the possibility of the best outcomes and discoveries
  • Getting paralysed by complexity
  • Getting stuck in one’s head
  • Mechanical (as opposed to biological and ecological) metaphors

Learn more about Looby’s work including books and courses at her Cultural Emergence site here. Also if you’re keen to have Looby support you / us in applying the design web to something in our own lives, make a comment below and if there is enough interest and enthusiasm we’ll make it so!

Here is the design web:

Looby Macnamara’s Design Web

Here is a juicy quote I pulled out from Looby’s latest book Cultural Emergence:

The Design Web is a non-linear process with non-linear outcomes and possibilities. Emergent design reflects the flexibility and unexpectedness of Cultural Emergence. It allows for solutions to emerge that take the design in a new direction. It is organic, responsive, adaptive, fluid, flowing and dynamic. As the design emerges we continue to weave our way between the anchor points. An attitude of emergence enables us to flow and move with what is arising. It recognises that things are not always as they seem, there is more to discover and be revealed. The process is alchemical with surprises along the way.


Designing regenerative cultures is an ongoing process of emergence, not a permanent destination. We are designing for and with living systems that are organic, dynamic and unpredictable. We are setting direction and intentions. It is an invitation for change, rather than being exact or prescriptive.

Looby Macnamara in Cultural Emergence

5 Comments

  1. One of your best deep dives to date!
    I appreciate how you both embody the content – more than a few lightbulbs went off
    and concepts really landed because of the HOW of what you explored and not just the What. Just ordered her book. Dan – you are a game changer on the planet – thank you for your own Emergent-ness!

    1. Thanks Linda (you are too kind :-)) and also Josh, Christine and Lizzy. My sense is that it will take some enthusiasm for at least a few others before setting up an interactive session, but I will keep Looby posted and be guided by her sense also. Also – get excited – the next episode is looking to be an interview with the incredible Leah Penniman from Soul Fire Farm.

  2. Music to my ears, I’d love to be kept in loop for an interactive session. Thank you both for your work…..

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