Collisions, Design and the Swerve

  • Jamie Brassett
  • John O’Reilly
Part of the Design Research Foundations book series (DERF)


If only everything were formed of neat laminar flows, with easy to understand conditions and determinable outcomes: there would be no risk to manage out, messy inconsistencies and uncertainties to disrupt well-laid out plans. Things are not so clear-cut however. Indeed, as scientists, poets and philosophers of science have pointed out it is under conditions of nondeterminism and complexity that everything comes into being. There is an issue, then, when creative disciplines in particular find such complexity problematic enough to design systems and models in which uncertainty, disruption and aleatory collisions are if not destroyed, then dampened. We wonder: what might become of a creative practice that championed its encounter with The Swerve, Lucretius’s clinamen? This article examines the role, value and applicability of the concept of collision to design. It takes a philosophical approach to examining this concept and mapping the possibilities of its use in design. We will argue using concepts mainly from Lucretius and Serres—but also Deleuze and others—that collision is an important aspect of all creativity, and that there would be nothing were it not for collisions, disruptive deviation and swerves from equilibrium. The aim will be to articulate the conditions for the possibility of designing that is a ‘fan of collisions’.


Collision Deleuze Design Lucretius Serres The Swerve 



Our thanks go: to the editors for incisive and creative feedback on earlier versions of this chapter. To Professor Victor Margolin for comments on a much earlier version of this paper. To Professor David Webb, Staffordshire University for sharing thoughts on Serres, as well as some of his pre-published papers. To Derek Hales, whose swerves align with ours but are different. To colleagues and students on MA Innovation Management at Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London, for discussing some of these issues with us over the years.


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© Springer International Publishing AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Reader in Philosophy, Design and Innovation; Subject Leader and MA Course Leader, Innovation ManagementCentral Saint Martins, University of the Arts LondonLondonUK
  2. 2.Associate Lecturer, MA Innovation ManagementCentral Saint Martins, University of the Arts LondonLondonUK

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