Design and Society


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Design is not just about the creation of things, it is a way of thinking that can help to shape the future of society (Kees Doorst, p26)

Design is deeply entangled into our everyday life, and therefore always connected to the social sphere. Therefore, we might think of design as being related to social change (Joost/Bieling). How can design enable this change? This course examines the effects design has on everyday life and vice versa.

Design’s role in shaping the future of our society has been discussed and described manifold (e.g. Papanek; Manzini; Bieling/Joost/Sametinger). Kees Doorst argues that the “larger processes of societal change are often seen as inevitable, almost as natural processes that beset humanity. And it is true that these processes are difficult to start, stop or steer. They are also much too complicated to design directly. They involve complex technical, social and cultural issues over long periods of time. Yet, these large scale processes can be molded”. (Doorst, 25) This also requires the participation of the stakeholders as active contributors to the design process (see also Ehn, Sanders).

However to come up with successful solutions to socio-cultural problems, requires to challenge, what impact a simple problem-solution pattern has on the social construction of normality, since actually the term “problem” is already highly problematic.

Chow and Joost underline the importance of taking into account e.g. sociological and ethical questions, so as (in that case) “not to address [a] user group as ‘old’ – meaning unable to use ‘normal’ technology” (Joost/Chow, 166). The challenge of the designer is not only to meet certain e.g. functional or aesthetic requisites for certain products, but also to clarify an enhanced and reflected understanding of the social dynamics – thus to holistically understand design as a process that has an impact on the situations.

Obviously design does not always solve problems, but can also be major part of the problem itself. Nevertheless, society and culture are man-made things, and the social impact of design is evident on all levels. Thus (creating a valuable) society can also be seen as a design project.


Bieling, T., Joost, G., Sametinger, F. (2013): Die (vernachlässigte) soziale Dimension; in: Die Geschichte des nachhaltigen Designs; t.b.a.

Doorst, K. (2011). The Challenge of Social Design; in: Kint, J. / Tomico, O. / Ferwerda, I. (pg 25-28) in: NextDoor/Quartier. Social Cohesion through Design in Context; Uitgeverij Designing Change, Brussel.

Ehn, P. (2009). Design Things and Living Labs. Participatory Design and Design as Infrastructuring. In Multiple Ways to Design Research. Research cases that reshape the design discipline. Proceedings of the Swiss Design Network Symposium 2009; Lugano, 52-64

Joost, G. / Bieling, T. (2012). Design against Normality, in: V!RUS, n. 7., “cultural actions and digital media”, NOMADS. USP Journal. ISSN 2175-974x

Joost, G. / Chow, R., (2010). Design research in university-industry collaborative innovation: experiences and perspectives. In: H. Arnold, M. Erner, P. Möckel and Ch. Schläffer. Applied technology and innovation management. Berlin/Heidelberg: Springer.

Manzini E. (2007). Design Research for Sustainable Social Innovation, in: Michel, R. Design Research Now, Birkhäuser, Basel

Papanek, V. (1972). Design for the real world; human ecology and social change. New York: Pantheon Books. p. 60.

Sanders, E. (2002). From User-Centered to Participatory Design Approaches, in FRASCARA, J.: Design and the Soc. Sciences, Taylor & Francis.