Arturo Escobar on Ontologically Oriented Design

Why should design be considered ‘ontological’?  The initial answer to this question is straightforward: “We encounter the deep question of design when we recognize that in designing tools we are designing ways of being” (Winograd and Flores 1986: xi).  Understood as “the interaction between understanding and creation” (4), design is ontological in that it is a conversation about possibilities.  One more way to get at the ontological dimension of design is by addressing “the broader question of how a society engenders inventions whose existence in turn alters that society” (4-5).   Computer technologies (as printing, the automobile, or television before) are of course dramatic cases of radical innovations that opened up unprecedented domains of possibilities.  But every tool and technology is ontological in the sense that, however humbly or minutely, it inaugurates a set of rituals, ways of doing, and modes of being. They contribute to shape what it is to be human.

Now, a more direct way to talk about it might be: "ontologically-oriented design refers to a design
practice that is self-reflexive about the kinds of social, cultural, and ecological ways of being in the world that
it fosters.  It also seeks to transform through the design process those practices, objects, institutions, etc.
that contribute to create worlds and situations marked by social injustice,
cultural domination, and ecological destruction"