Online Conference, 25-26 March 2021 | SDN Symposium
SDN Symposium
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14:00 - 16:00


Design Education, Social Design, Social Impact, Social Innovation, Inclusivity

“I don’t see myself reflected in much of the narrative of design— not in the history, the theory, the practitioners or the outcomes” (Tejada, 2018)
Designer and educator Ramon Tejada’s poignant statement makes clear that design has failed to encompass a wide range of cultures, values, and lived experiences — a reflection that is pronounced in design education and pedagogy. In the context of current discussions about systemic power imbalances, decolonizing design (Schultz et al., 2018) and issues of representation and inequality, we wish to examine what is understood as the common good that design education aims to produce and for whom. In particular, we are interested in Master’s degrees and courses focused on design for ‘social impact,’ ‘social innovation’ and ‘real-world change.’ These programs reflect an increase in social design activity in recent decades (Chen et al., 2016) and present a variety of approaches that often go beyond traditional market-based solutions (Irwin, 2015).

With regard to professional design practice, Guy Julier and Lucy Kimbell (2019) argue that social design has been limited by its economic and institutional contexts and therefore has tended to focus on the symptoms rather than the causes of inequalities. Design education may offer more space to challenge structural issues, but it also risks reproducing ideologies that contribute to the problems social design programs seek to address (Costanza-Chock, 2020; Kaethler, 2018). Institutional agendas, the makeup of faculty and administration, along with constraints such as academic calendars, evaluation requirements, enrollment targets, tuition and budgets, all influence the student body, curriculum, and choice of partners, and can compete with the needs of the communities that schools work with. Less visible are the economic and social value systems underlying design education that shape how common good is perceived.

Workshop organizers


Participation is limited to 20. First come first serve basis.

This workshop looks at discourses of common good and the systems that uphold this ideal within design education. It asks: whose common good? How is that common good defined and enacted within and by design schools? By and for whom? What, if anything, makes design and design schools uniquely capable of envisioning, facilitating, and creating a common good? How are design ontologies, epistemologies, and frameworks formed and cultivated both within the walls of academic institutions, and ultimately perpetuated by the learner beyond those walls? This workshop is proposed by four design educators who have developed curriculum for a postgraduate program in social design in Canada. Echoing Tejada, we intend to question the ways in which the pedagogies we as design educators advocate for reflect (or do not reflect) diverse identities. In programs that are focused on creating change and action, we maintain that there is a need for more reflexive critical design and theory.

Participants will help to determine the geographic scope of the discussion by contributing, prior to the workshop, to a list of academic programs focused on social design. The workshop itself involves a series of group activities using Zoom and Miro. Drawing on the backgrounds of participants, we will begin by exploring understandings of common good and the issues this term gives rise to in the context of design education. We will then add to a collective timeline in which we map concepts of common good and the establishment of the academic programs under discussion. In the final activity, groups will analyze case studies of contemporary graduate programs, examining how they present and enact concepts of common good in selected promotional materials and curricula. Groups will look at questions of inclusivity and how alternative visions of common good might be generated. Workshop results will be shared among participants.