Designer Consultant Educator – Transformation for the pluriverse


Peter Friedrich Stephan is a designer, consultant and educator based in Berlin and focusing on digital and social transformation.

Professor for Transformation Design at Academy of Media Arts
publications at Researchgate and Academia, profile at Linkedin


News – Lessons from Corona

Lessons from Corona: What can designers learn?

Since the outbreak of the Corona crisis we witness the biggest disruptive systems-level change since WW II. All of this is very frightening at the moment and no one knows what will happen next. As we try to cope with this we may ask ourselves what the crisis can teach us as designers. Can Designers be the super-spreaders of ideas and tools?

The power of design and systems-level change
Designers in new and emergent fields seem to be convinced that they can change the world: Some approaches of social innovation designers sound as if they want to put the whole world in a repair café. Some designers for digital transformation seem to believe that a system update is all it takes to make the world better. Design activists believe in participation and tell us that everybody is a designer who can make a little difference that will eventually add up to bring about big changes.
All this is great and valuable work, but will it be sufficient to accomplish systems-level changes that we have to reach fast when it comes to climate change, migration, social, ecologic and demographic issues?
Most of us will agree that design has a lot of power to shape the lives of people and the future of the planet. However, this power of design is not necessarily the power of designers. Design sits on top of technological and economic power. Without them design can’t do much.

Where are the designers?
Designers don’t have superpowers. They can only hope to contribute a tiny extra that will work as a catalyst to make the expertise of others better. Lately we listen to medical doctors, politicians and economists, but not designers. Designers don’t have a seat at the table of decisionmakers and maybe they are better off as consultants in the background. But if designers manage to have the ear of the leaders: What do they have to say?
Chances are designers will come up with ideas of how to communicate better for home offices and home schooling, organize help for neighbors, stay in shape while in quarantine or do smarter shopping. All of this might be helpful. But it is not systems-level change. Where are the designers specializing in social innovation and futuring, strategic design and design fiction, transition and transformation design? Did they develop plans for how to cope with global emergencies? Did they conceive alternative health systems on a global scale?
One examples of this kind of anticipative design is pre-earthquake architecture that uses the studies of earthquakes as a foundation to design new buildings and infrastructures that will resist these catastrophes and will help to limit devastation. Obviously, it took a lot of earthquakes before these projects got started. As we witnessed outbreaks like Ebola, Sars and now Corona we have to ask: can we use these experiences to learn and to conceive pre-pandemic alternatives? Will we have to specialize in emergenc design?

Permanent crises
Helping to fight a crisis is one thing, preventing a crisis is another. But this is only true from the privileged perspective of most western designers as the majority of the global population lives in permanent crisis. And this is not because of a lack of design, but because it is designed to be that way (see Mike Monteiro). Most designers in the western world help to perpetuate constant crises.

Decolonize Design
The modernist framework of values and methods and its narrative of progress are a success story. But not for everyone, as the movement for the decolonization of design reminds us. The modernist success story comes to an end because it can’t be applied on a global scale. As a part of that vanishing story design will have to find a new narrative. The challenge is to “stay with the trouble” (Haraway). No more purity in white cube showrooms and business as usual.

Systems-level change for design
Most models of design stack activity levels, starting with graphics and product, followed by interaction and service, and ending up with process and system. Thus systems-level change appears as the most comprehensive dimension. But is it really true that our expertise in traditional design fields will magically add up to form a set of competences that allows us to address systems-level change?
I think the contrary is true: If we designers want to be actors on the systems-level, we need a systems-level change for design in the first place. As a consequence, instead of aiming for higher goals we should rigorously analyze our basic assumptions. What is our understanding of an object, of politics, of economy, of intervention? How to connect values and facts?

The bad and the good news
The bad news is that while we fight Corona the other crises like climate change do not wait. The good news is that we witness disruptive and profound changes becoming possible overnight. Most of us accept the explanations of experts and the radical actions taken when they can see their personal benefit. With Corona there might be a chance for a reset of values that links the personal benefits closer to the health of a global community and a healthy planet.
Will designers rise to the occasion and reset their foundations so they can become catalysts for systems-level change?


How can design and technology help to transform communities, businesses and society?
We initiate and facilitate transformation with cutting edge aesthetics and emergent technology. We develop new tools for designing transformation that are published online here. For older projects see ARCHIVE.


Presentations and workshops in the US and China


Lectures, workshops and talks on Transformation Design at Chinese Universities at CAFA/Beijing, Tongji/Shanghai, CAA/Hangzhou

Bauhaus Transformed

Designing Concerns of Future Cities – Bauhaus Transformed
Presentation at Media Architecture Biennale, Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing/China, 2018

Transformation Design

Designing “matters of concern“ (Latour): A future design task?
Chapter in Jonas, Zerwas, von Anshelm 2015: Transformation Design – Perspectives on a New Design Attitude, Birkhäuser (BIRD – Board of International Researchers in Design), p.202-226

BIRD-Titel Kopie

Knowledge Trees

Bildschirmfoto 2015-04-27 um 21.03.33

Wissens-Räume – Wissens-Bäume, räumlich erfahrbare Vermittlug von Wissens-Zusammenhängen

Knowlegde – Design – Organization


The Design of Knowledge Communities based on Pattern Language
Given the corporate goal of innovation it is crucial to tap into the informal and tacit knowledge types that knowledge management fails to address (Master Thesis Soenke Petersen, cooperation Daimler)

MIND 17 – Designing Future Knowledge Systems

TM-konzept-6-timeline_v03While search engines collect and display more and more data, there is not enough aggregation to larger chunks of information. MIND 17 delivers comprehensive views of large data sets rendered in real time and featuring advanced tools for interaction. The focus is on constellations and contexts.


Some projects will be remembered for pioneering concepts on new media platforms
(to be continued…)


Prof. Hans (Nick) Roericht called back students to »change parts«, »(…) die Lehr-/Bildungsteile auszuwechseln, die besonderem ideologischem und professionellen Verschleiß ausgesetzt waren (…) und statt dessen Teile anzubieten, die leistungsfähiger sind in Bezug auf die anstehenden, spezieller die sozio-kulturellen, Aufgaben eines Entwerfers am Ende des Industrialismus, d.h. im so genannten Info-Age oder Symbolzeitalter.« (DIE ZEIT, 17.04.1992)



Performance Arts integrating music, dance, poetry and video, Student work 2003-2004

Cognitive Aspects of Visualization

1996 kognitive Aspekte der Visualisierung
Interactive tool for research into visualization and cognition with Prof. Dr. Dr. Mihai Nadin for the Research Cluster »Bits – Bilder – Bedeutung« 1994–1996

Digital Dissidents

Cooperation with Joseph Weizenbaum while he was a scientific advisor for the Institute of Electronic Business in Berlin (2002–2005).

Weizenbaum cropped

Interface Design

modul 30 inseln frei
Hypermedia publication on design history 2000/02 (cooperation Enno Hyttrek)


Scope drill down skizze

“Scope and drill down” method by PFS
seamlessly scaling from the most complete scope of a project to the smallest detail


Chair Wood 1983

Record Covers

Mint Cover
Cover Design for Avantgarde Noise Band 1986-88

Free International University Berlin

T-Shirt (Cooperation Volker Schneider), Joseph Beuys Exhibition, Berlin 1986


Academy of Media Arts 1997
Rendering of Data Traces, Diploma Carsten Becker

Mac World

PFS_Spindler MAcWorld 1991
Presentation of QuickTime 1.0
PFS and Michael Spindler, CEO of Apple Computer at MacWorld Berlin 1991


Burda_redaktion quadrat
Design of digital workflows at Burda Publishing, Berlin 1992
PFS (head of Burda´s Graphic Arts Department) with Günther Krumminga (head of Burda´s New York office) and Robert Lockwood (founder of news graphics)

High D – Visualization

Complex traffic data is displayed comprehensively in realtime on mobile devices.
Cutting edge in 2003!

TimeSystem on Apple Newton

Ref. Activity Info STONE
Interaction and screen design, Munich 1991
One of the first applications for the new Apple Newton

Philip Morris FutureTalk

drei screens621x390
Computer game, Munich 1991 Engaging audiences on the first Apple Powerbooks

Philip Morris HypeRemix

Hyperemix Main Screen
Eventmarketing, Munich 1990 Interactive music mix station


1991_Apple Kick_Agenda Screens
Eventdesign, Munich 1991
Visuals in cinemascope, cutting edge at the time


1991_Burda Pyramide
Visualization for a publisher, Munich 1992 Visual metaphor for displaying business areas.


1990-91 PASH distortion621x466
Advertising for Pash fashion, Munich 1990 Key visuals for a campaign promoting new denim styles


A laser reads vinyldiscs, another laser cuts vinyldiscs. New Sounds and new forms for sculptures are created.
Diploma by Jens Standke at Academy of Media Arts Cologne. Designaward of the city of Cologne 2013.
Videos at vimeo: assembling of sculpture timelapse, custom built machine with lasercutters technofaktur, >website

Prof. Peter Friedrich Stephan
designer – strategist – educator



Peter is a consultant for digital and social transformation plus business communication for the banking, publishing and computer industries. For over 30 years he worked for clients like Apple, Bertelsmann, Burda Publishing, KfW Bank, Medialab, Philip Morris and Telekom. He also leads self comimssioned projects such as Restarting Development Aid. For his projects in designing transformation he developed the ConcernCanvas and other tools that are published open source at – access to tools for the pluriverse.


Peter is a full Professor for Transformation Design at the Academy of Media Arts Cologne. He lectures worldwide at universities in Europe, Asia and the USA. Since 1997 he was a Professor for Electronic Publishing, Multimedia, and Networks at the Academy. There he co-founded the exMedia group and post-graduate program in 2015. Peter was a guestlecturer for Leadership in Digital Communication at the University of the Arts Berlin, University St. Gallen/Switzerland 2002–2013. He co-founded a university program in Computational Design 1994.


Peters research interests focus on the cognitive and emotional aspects of digital and social transformation. Projects include:
– »Theorymachine« (ongoing application phase)
– »Medienquadrat/Knowledge Design« funded by Federal Ministery of Education and Research – BMBF

»Intelligent Objects« funded by the National Academy of Science and Engineering – acatech
– »Bits–Bilder–Bedeutung« research cluster funded by the Ministery of Innovation, Science and Research Northrhine-Westfalia


Peter wrote 50+ scientific papers on transformation design and cognitive design in German, English, French and Japanese available at Academia and Researchgate. He published two books: »Knowledge Media Design« (Oldenburg, 2005), »Events and E-Commerce« (Springer, 2000)


Peter serves the scientific community as a consultant for the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, Fraunhofer Gesellschaft, FWF– Wissenschaftsfonds Österreich, ZEvA – Zentrale Evaluations- und Akkreditierungsagentur. He is a peer reviewer for the conferences Mensch und Computer, retune and Learntec as well as for the magazines i-com and Revue – Magazine for the Next Society.