Online Conference, 25-26 March 2021 | SDN Symposium
SDN Symposium
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16:00 - 17:30


Systems Thinking, Life's Principles, Graphic Design, Re-nourish, Biomimicry, Curriculum, Sustainability, Ontology

We propose that a systems thinking process should be taught in design education to create for the common good. Embedded in this process are tools for democratic decision-making student leadership, cybernetics, and constructivist thinking. We will also share the rationales for why teaching design for the common good re-orders the structure of the design curriculum giving the education more meaning to potential students. Additionally, included in the discussions are the importance of transition design, action-based research, and designing for social innovation in curricula.

Case studies will be highlighted to show how our proposals can be implemented elsewhere. For example, at an Indian institute, the curriculum protects the knowledge of traditional artisans to create an environment that fosters self-respect, collaboration, and values for cultural heritage as a common good.

Panel speakers

Presented papers

  • Hidden Connections: Holistic Approaches to Design for the Common Good

    by Michelle Fehler, Eric Benson

    Teaching designers to create for the "Common Good" is a needed effort. As it stands, academia markets niche degrees with a focus on "designing for the common good" with terms like "social impact" and "sustainability" stand out as oddities separate from the traditional focus on designing corporate solutions. Faced with the growing social issues and inadequacies of racism, climate change, accessibility, wellness, equity, and education, design curriculums are severely lacking in their focus on the common good. Instead, design education must recognize that their conventions of co-design, sustainable, life-centered, biomimicry, social impact designs need to be incorporated into a methodological approach combining strategies of all to ensure design is a tool that leads to outcomes benefiting all. This method is called Systems Thinking. We will discuss two programs where creating for the common good is embedded in their curriculum as case studies for higher education to follow.

  • Design Education as a Common Good for Artisans in India

    by Judy Frater

    Artisans in India have been persistently perceived as workers, hands without heads who require the “intervention” of professional designers to provide them with work.  Lack of access to attractive incomes or individual recognition has contributed to an estimated 15% of artisan communities leaving traditional crafts as a source of livelihood every year.  Yet, with the crisis of COVID-19 and the eight-week lockdown imposed by the Government of India, the perception of artisans as laborers is clearer than ever as advocates of artisans-- designers and well-meaning NGOs- band together to decide where craft should be heading and provide artisans blocked from their work with designs for face masks and fridge bags.

  • Implementing Design For The Common Good In An MA Curriculum

    by Ulla Raebild, Richard Herriott

    This paper reviews the approach of NAME (hereafter “the School”), a third-level design school in LAND towards design for the common good. The expansion of the concept of design to include social goods and sustainability (protecting people and the planet) shows a profound shift in the focus of design teaching and design education. It follows from an earlier and perhaps not fully mature shift from “structure- and process-based to competency-based education and measurement of outcomes” (Carracio et al. 2002), the “disappearance of things” (Findelli, 2000) and “in response to new developments, new tools, new situations, and new technologies” (Friedman, 2019). Design for the common good makes demands on the means/ends relation in design, the ontology of art school organisation and puts into focus the junction between non-legal stakeholder empowerment and legalistic, static approaches. The change to design for the common good could be interpreted as a change from indirectly addressing the common good to directly addressing the common good. It can also be seen a change of what is considered to be the means and ends of design. In the traditional model, the means to design are the processes and methods required. The ends are elaborated goods and services. Under the new conceptualization, the means of design are the processes and methods and the goods and services. The ends are the social or common good. The School has integrated UN SDGs into its curriculum. It is also presently renewing its commitment to accessibility in teaching and research. The result has been a re-engineering of the MA programmes. Whilst the BA programmes retain their classic division into industrial design, communication, textiles and fashion, the MA programme has been divided under notions of society, sustainability. Design for the common good thus adds to ”the paradox of ambiguity at the centre of art school ontology” (Orr and Shreve, 2017). In part this is reflected in the blending of traditional disciplines (an ontological structure) and the risk of loss of the handy short-hand the disciplines represented for communities of activity (fashion designer, communication designer etc). This paper considers the organisation of the MA programme with regard to course structure, progression and modes of teaching and the impact on assessment and guidance. It is a consequence of the ontological shift of the “product” from ends to means that some reconsideration of the nature of design is required. The shift also necessitates the consideration of how economy, policy, management and law that may not be in-line with students´ skills or expectations. These things are implicit in the courses only. The students have to unravel the bigger picture though they might not have the ability to really grasp it. Easing this transition has been the School´s long-standing focus on co-creation, participatory design and co-design. The intellectual framework can be seen as consistent with Buchanan´s notions of fourth order design (2001), David Pye´s concepts of design as recognition of the humanity of the users (1995, Ch. 13) and Arnstein’s concept of citizen participation (1969). The aim of teaching design for the common good is set against the context of the legalization of culture (Hastrup, 2003) where legal norms replace moral and normative claims on “the good”. Work by Herriott (2019) also indicates that design thinking is possibly, though not necessarily, at odds with legalistic thinking and also legislative methods of the pursuit of the common good. Design for the common good runs into an interesting barrier as design (dynamic) expands into the larger systems of societal organisation that are typically the purview of law and legislation (which are relatively static). The paper concludes by reflecting on the self-critical awareness needed to compensate for the ontological untidiness of design for the common good and how to orientate design in relation to pre-existing social structures also aimed at the common good (law, legislation and politics).

  • How will it benefit the community? Designing a cybernetic curriculum for the common good

    by Michael Hohl, Mathilde Scholz

    In this paper we will present our insights, experiences and reflections around developing a design theory course that connects acting and theory in an applied manner. This course has been unfolding since 2014, within an existing environment and had a sustained and expanding effect on the learning environment. At the heart of our learning and teaching approach lie participation, democratic decision making, responsibility and, among others, systems thinking, cybernetics, and elements of constructivist thinking, including selected elements of transition design, action research and designing for social innovation. In our learner-centred approach it is not only what we learn, but how we learn. This includes the social dynamics we try to foster and making these explicit as particular values (Bela Banathy, Arthur Costa, Linda Booth-Sweeney). Our underlying claim is that there is evidence that some students participating in this course will not only consciously shape their learning experience but also become responsible actors in view of the common good. Learning and life converge in our setting. This text describes this process from a ten year perspective and builds upon several earlier articles.