Design and responsible behaviour

An international group of adults stand with a big board in front of them. It says, Make Things Happen. There are lots of coloured post it notes on the board.Ever started off with a project that didn’t end up where you expected? That was the experience of a group of Canadian researchers working on placemaking and community building. They found that designers often left design school without the tools to do the job. That is, they weren’t equipped with the skills to involve communities. Consequently, stakeholders were being left out of the design process and outcomes.

The research project has raised more questions than answers. This isn’t a bad thing. It means that it has started conversations about how designers are educated. Changes to curriculum design are needed. Time to bring educational research and practice together. That is one of the findings from the article about working with people, not for people from an educational perspective. The research group suggest that the design community build their own “ethics protocols that define responsible behaviour for design”.

Building “Working with, not for” into Design Studio Curriculum is a participatory action research project. It challenges assumptions and underpinning values of educators. Working with participants and collaborators they found that the community was treated as a group of outsiders. Past experiences with community consultations left them distrustful of processes. In some cases participants thought researchers exploited them for their own purposes. It’s a long paper, but tells the research story well. 

A related post looks at the issue of designers not always having the two skill sets required these days. Not only do designers need technical know-how, they need to relate well to those they are designing for. The same could be said for their tutors and lecturers.

AbstractDesign ManifesT.O. 2020 is a Participatory Action Research project currently underway in Toronto, Canada and is working with communities to uncover stories of grassroots placemaking and community building done through creative practice. An unexpected discovery during data collection highlighted how communities are still being left out of decision-making processes that directly affect their collective values and living conditions and are being disrespected by designers and researchers — exposing very large gaps in the education of designers in terms of values-based learning, design ethics, and informed methods for working with communities. This paper interrogates design pedagogy and practice in order to stimulate further discourse and investigation into how to successfully integrate ethical and responsible protocols into design curriculum to support co-design practices where social justice and equity becomes normalized in practice. In other words: giving students the tools to “work with, not for” communities. Demonstrating social conscience is ethically desirable in design education but if students are not given the tools required to work with communities through respectful and collaborative processes then we are training the next generation of designers to continue a form of hegemony in design practice that is undesirable.


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