Social Design it is

I have just come back from India. And from Presenting the School of Design vision. For now its all go – and that is really exciting. In short the vision argues for three new kinds of courses:

1. Social Innovation: Where the key focus is upon a people orientated project that uses methodologies more attuned to the social. The vision here is that the problems of the world cannot be solved by technical intervention at the tip of the pyramid only. And trickle down is often ineffectual as it dries up before it gets to the bottom.

2. Service Design: Where the key focus is upon changing existing services which are doing such a bad job of ensuring a decent quality of life for all – or of coming up with new service ideas.

3. Social Design: Where the undergraduate curriculum in design is proposed – as a social one. Where the discourse is post professional – where specializations ought to be seen as things of the past. For specializations were a feature of a technological society – as in compartments and efficient units. In a post industrial society the profession of design too changes and becomes disengaged from the material and technical.

The school vision acknowledges the existence of the two dominant/existing paradigms of design – as the art and design construct and the technical innovation construct – and proposes an additional paradigm the social. Which is a sense makes then the case for the existence of three meta discourses: the 1850s onwards dominated by the Art and Design rhetoric in the words of Ruskin-Morris, then Gropius and Muthesius; the 1950s onwards where the technical-industrial is privileged in the voice of Banham, with Pevsner sitting on the fence; the 1990s onwards where the third discourse emerges in the voice of Manzini and the post-sustainability texts.

Sustainability has a post attached to it as design was to leave the technical in sustainability to the labs, TU Delft and the clusters that went too far into LCA, the quantitative and the rhetoric that was then called eco-design. But as the suits moved in to sustainability discourse – the poetics got marginalised and the aesthtic in sustainability was relegated to the material manipulations. So the ‘save the planet’ brigade in design opted out and found social innovation.

This is succinct picture – just done to distance social innovation from sustainability. Where sustainability is about the dominant discourse and the social is the inclusive marginal.

In short there is a possibility that the discourse of design i about to get a fresh lease of life – atleast in India – in the guise of the social.


4 Replies to “Social Design it is”

  1. Great News!

    I think Service Design is almost a branch of Social Innovation, or at least they need one another to be useful and effective.

    The thing you call Social Design is not what I expected. I think a key to the future of design is to be able to meet real needs, some of this can be done by HCD and some other portion may still be done by mastermind designers, people who specialise in making relevant design and not necessarily listening. i.e. not just social projects.

    On another level, I think a key value of design as it is today is the emphasis on integrating highly specialised knowledge (either of the designer or of external specialists) to create much richer decisions and appropriate solutions. An example I can think of is in the development of the OLPC, where the screen technology was really ground breaking in many ways. The team that did this work was co-ordinated by someone like a design manager however the display team them self were all so specialised that as soon as the company started working on more general projects the team lead departed for other work. Without this kind of specialisation of their solution would probably be much less revolutionary.

    Of course one could argue that this is a function of the technology society however, I think that might be inaccurate. I would say it is more a society of synergising existing technologies, through biomimicry and social engineering and all the other contact points for technology to reach design and subsequently develop. From this perspective I would say Social Design is about improving the practice of integrating people, technology, style, and methodology. A Social Designer can be an organiser of ideas and thinking but I think, more than ever, that they will need touch points to be translated into reality.


  2. Your points are well made. Just top clarify one of them: Social Design – is a construction that is similar to experience design – where what is designed is the social thing. So in that sense the chair f designed by a student will be a project – not motivated by manufacturing thinking or material consideration but more like the traditional way of designing for use and trade. Post-professional refers to how design is often taught as a skill – CAD jockey – and not as a intellectual discourse. So social design will privilege a dialogue about some material stuff and more non-material things. I prefer ‘social’ to ‘integrated’ which KISD uses.

    Now what do you say?


  3. Thanks for the clarification. I think my initial point however is still relatively accurate, though perhaps not that relevant. I think there are strong alternatives to the idea that research can lead to good design outcomes, especially research which aims to make design more socially appropriate or relevant. I guess I think that social design, if I am using that correctly now, is a design situation where the designer uses some combination co-ordination skill and discovery research to find answers to problems that other designers may have answered by simply starting work on a new idea. From this perspective, I think design research and consequentially the discipline of social design are methods to get good design outcomes with by using what could be considered less good designers.

    As I said, I am not sure where the relevance stands on this, perhaps just to suggest that there is value in designers having a personal working context as well as one that can be used for situations like the ones mentioned in the original post.

    Am I right in thinking that an “integrated” workflow refers to internal decision making based on metrics and other company derived context?

    What is KISD, do you mean KAIST?

    I am still not really sure what KAIST is going to offer but it should be fun and I know there is a plethora of investment capitol available there and a lot of really smart people also there with the hope of starting interesting projects. For now I am interested in the non strategy of evolution and looking at how evolved decisions offer different qualities over strategic decisions and what value can be gained from this distinction.

    Merry Christmas


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