Design + Law

design // definition : a roadmap or a strategic approach for someone to achieve a unique expectation. It defines the specifications, plans, parameters, costs, activities, processes and how and what to do within legal, political, social, environmental, safety and economic constraints in achieving that objective. – - Don Kumaragamage, Y. (2011). Design Manual Vol 1.

“Everyone designs who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones. The intellectual activity that produces material artifacts is no different fundamentally from the one that prescribes remedies for a sick patient or the one that devises a new sales plan for a company or a social welfare policy for a state. Design, so construed, is the core of all professional training; it is the principal mark that distinguishes the professions from the sciences. Schools of engineering, as well as schools of architecture, business, education, law, and medicine, are all centrally concerned with the process of design.” – - Simon, H.A. (1996). The Sciences of the Artificial.

// WHAT //

DESIGN+LAW is a performance, a conference, an experiment, and a happening by Creative Rights and a number of collaborating organizations that will examine the use of design in art, architecture, and the law. Specifically, it will explore how the law might be better integrated with the process of design in other fields in an effort to provide an entry point to the law that encourages creative empowerment as opposed to restrictiveness.

DESIGN+LAW will include presentations and panel discussions from practitioners and academicians in the fields of art, architecture, design, and law. But in order to properly engage with its subject matter, DESIGN+LAW will go beyond the realm of conventional conference activities by providing a participatory performance designed to allow attendees the opportunity to experience and interact with the law when it has been integrated into the design process of a creative project.

// THEMES //

1. The use of design in the legal field and how it compares to the use of design in other disciplines, such as architecture and art.

Every discipline has its own internal design process that it has developed in order to train its professionals. In architecture and art, this internal grammar is highly visual. Whereas in law, it is almost entirely text based. DESIGN+LAW will examine these systems in an attempt to learn more about design in other disciplines and how other methods might be applied to the field of law.

In addition to looking at the internal grammar of various disciplines, DESIGN+LAW will also investigate the role of design in a discipline’s external dialogue with the public at large. This may be achieved by studying other disciplines in order to “translate” the law’s internal grammar in a way that is more easily accessible to the public, such as using visual aides and graphics to convey legal information. However, improving cultural discourse with the law may also mean examining the way in which design is used to encourage interaction with the artifacts of a discipline. For example, the public is able to view and occupy an architect’s work, or participate in a work of performance art. Such activities give the public a sense of transparency and agency that is often lacking in their interactions with the law, leading to cultural notions of the law as absolute, restrictive, and inaccessible.

2. The ability of the law to function as a tool in the design process.

Creative Rights is dedicated to looking for ways to integrate components of legal services more closely with projects at an earlier stage of the design process. When looking to use the law as a tool in the design process is it necessary that the law perform its standard functions? Perhaps one way to allow for a greater cultural discourse with the law would be to encourage the involvement of the legal field in non-traditional settings, such as a legal-focused public art projects that allow the public to consider and interact with how the law might function, rather than how it does.

// example : As an example of a real-world application of “law as a tool of design,” Creative Rights recently began a project with a long-time client and installation artist with a background in art and architecture. The client came to Creative Rights with more of a concept than a fully formed project and asked if the organization could help develop her idea. As a starting point, she said:

For my next project I’d like to do something with the Detroit River. I’m really interested in the border issues we explored in our last project. I’d like to continue that somehow. I also want to do something with a boat. I don’t know what, but I want to build a boat. Oh, and I want to do something with a periscope.

From there, Creative Rights began intensive research on different border measures, requirements for port entry, and boating licenses. Creative Rights attempted to anticipate areas of interest, such as examining how the border actually falls on the water, if it is a set point or if it is something more transitory that the client could explore further. Perhaps the most interesting find came in researching the possibilities for the client of building and operating a boat without a license. Canoes do not require a license. While not currently fully complete, the research suggests that a non-self-referential legal definition of “canoe” does not exist in any controlling regulation or code, meaning that common law definitions would likely have to be applied, giving the client a great deal of freedom to construct her “canoe” without the need for a license in any manner that could be justified based on common law understanding (which can vary greatly).

The client is currently figuring out what the next steps for her project will be in light of Creative Rights’ research. Perhaps nothing will be used as a result of the legal research. But it is also possible that some part of the research will become the focal point for the project. At any rate, the client has begun to view the law as a powerful creative tool with the ability to enhance her artistic message.


For the interactive performance part of DESIGN+LAW, the conference will include a version of Untitled Collective’s Mutual Assent. Mutual Assent attempts to imagine a world in which social capital is legally recognized and freely exchanged. The catch is that the project is not totally imaginary and the theory behind the project might arguably work if enough people began to rely upon it. Attendees will be forced to engage with a (possibly) alternate legal reality while enjoying the surprisingly cathartic process of identifying and sorting through life’s many implicit contracts and deciding which, if any, they would like to “abandon.”

// description : Mutual Assent investigates the potential to treat interaction as a quantity—a quasi or momentary property. Following the structure of a legal doctrine employed in the realm of land use and property rights (adverse possession), Untitled Collective asks visitors to abandon social obligations owed to them that they are not currently using or do not intend to use. The collective is especially concerned with social capital that has been accrued in the formation of unspoken or implicit contracts and hopes to provide a more instantaneous place of market for its value. Somewhat like squatters, the group will then make efficient use of the dormant, unproductive obligations within an agreed-upon period of time. Through this agreement and successive notification, Untitled Collective will obtain the right to alter, combine, and use these obligations and opportunities. By allowing the group possession over these rights, participants welcome their potential exposure to unforeseen benefits and opportunities of social capital.