Typical engineering courses have plenty of design content but they lack concepts of design justice. Engineers have done much to improve lives for the better. However, there are instances where the opposite occurs and unintentional harms are caused. Time to introduce the concepts of design justice into engineering courses, according to a recent paper.
Using a design justice lens, the inequities in the built environment come to light. Design justice seeks to address the ways in which design decisions perpetuate systemic injustices.
The paper describes how undergraduate students were tasked to assess an established neighbourhood where major highway now divides what was a thriving neighbourhood. Students were asked to review the case using principles of design justice.
Principles of design justice
The 10 principles of design justice are compared to the Engineering Code of Ethics. This is important because engineering ethics are about engineer practice, not who they design for. For example, avoiding conflicts of interest is not the same as being collaborative and a facilitator of design. The list of principles focus on the users of the design and introduces elements of co-design. These principles shift the focus from their skills as engineers to their skills of listening to and understanding users.
Self reflection on the learning
The author tracks the methods used and then uses direct quotes from students to highlight the learning. Here are two examples:
“The real lesson of the exercise though is just how big of an impact design can have on people and how long that the impact can be felt even generations later.”
“I have been aware that design can cause unintended harm but have never had a list of principles to reference when creating a design. I can now use this list to create just designs in my life.”
The principles of design justice are a good framework for engineers and others involved in design. The engineering profession is seeking ways to improve diversity and inclusion within their ranks. Now it is time to ensure diversity and inclusion is part of their everyday activity.
The title of the paper is, Incorporating Design Justice Activities in Engineering Courses, and good for all built environment educators.
Teaching engineers empathy
Universal design and empathetic design for engineers discusses similar issues. Here is an excerpt from the abstract.
This article explores the relevance of universal design and empathic design in education. Universal design focuses on creating accessible and usable products, environments, and systems for individuals with diverse abilities.
Empathy involves understanding and sharing the feelings of others, encompassing cognitive, emotional, and compassionate empathy. Teaching empathy to engineers is emphasized as a crucial aspect. By developing empathic skills, engineers gain a deeper understanding of user needs and perspectives, leading to more inclusive and user-centered design solutions.
Effective communication techniques such as asking open-ended questions, active listening, observation, and perspective-taking are explored. The article also explores methods for measuring empathy, thus enabling engineers to assess the effectiveness of their empathic design approaches. The challenges facing students, teachers, and university authorities in implementing such courses are also bulleted.