Defining socially responsible design

In Design Matters six designers and critics, led by Eugenia Bell design editor of frieze since 2007, discuss the relationship between design and social responsibility. I particularly noted a passage by John Emerson who argues that contemporary

Design is less centered on making objects, images, or spaces as on how people interact with them and how these things function within social, economic, political and environmental contexts. A socially responsible design practice may take on any number of forms for intervention, education or advocacy – even spinning off non-profits or non-governmental associations. At a certain point, a socially responsible design practice may cease to be recognized as design at all.

For design to be socially responsible one could argue that it must also be responsive. Thus highlighting the importance of an iterative dialog which shapes the end “product”. This can inevitably result in a tension as Jan-Christoph Zoels notes

Architects often do not recognise dialogue with people as nurturing and edifying, and sometimes even see it as a barrier to the brief. No to blame them though, it’s just a matter of best practices and culture that designers and policy makers have the power and the responsibility to address“.

The group goes on to discuss how design education as a sort of pedagogical activism. How it can be a key way for designers to be socially responsible. Chiefly, because design education requires a level of engagement which defines a participatory design process.


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